Belle & Sebastian

Push Barman to Open Old Wounds Comp

(Matador; 2005)

By Christopher Alexander | 24 May 2005

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN: We turn now to new albums for the week of May 24th. The Woods is a fucking masterpiece, yes or no George Will?

GEORGE WILL: Yes.

ERIC ALTERMAN: Agreed.

CHRISTOPHER ALEXANDER: Outstanding. Anyone who doesn’t like Sleater-Kinney after this record is just being an asshole.

ANN COULTER: We should execute people like John Walker to scare liberals like Corin Tucker and teach them a less-- MCLAUGHLIN: That’s nonsense, Ann. Also this week, Matador compiles Belle & Sebastian’s EPs for the label. Revealing retrospective, or cynical cash grab, Eric Alterman?

ALTERMAN: Considering that the list price is a good five dollars less than the Lazy Line Painter Jane box set, I’d say this is a good deal less than cynical.

ALEXANDER: That’s true, Eric. I’ll also give you that Push Barman to Open Old Wounds makes the excellent This is Just a Modern Rock Song EP finally available domestically, so on that basis alone the compilation earns a pass from me. Still, the most musically interesting parts of it come from its first disc, which simply lumps the first three EPs together.

MCLAUGHLIN: So you subscribe to the theory that Stevie Jackson ruined the band?

ALEXANDER: Oh n--

WILL: What piffle! I think this compilation will disabuse certain philistines of the prevailing hypothesis that the band became less relevant as they marched through the realm of Chronos.

ALEXANDER: Say what?

COULTER: No wonder you guys lost the war.

[ALTERMAN snickers]

ALEXANDER: I’m suggesting no such thing. In fact, I think that’s one of the laziest myths ever concocted about any band, and I agree with George: Push Barman truly captures the trajectory of the band’s seven-year career in about two hours, and it does so in a way that does the band justice. Look, I think “Legal Man” is a marvelous burst of sunlight that expands their sound, as opposed to some people who think its frivolity betrays the band’s earlier mopey records. I actually think it lends legitimacy to Stuart Murdoch’s fascination with sixties British radio and takes it past a quasi-ironic gimmick. Likewise, “Jonathan David” and “I’m Waking Up to Us” are two of the best songs of Belle & Sebastian’s career, and the former is all Jackson. The charge that they became boring as the songwriting became more democratic just doesn’t carry any water to me, and this set will punch a few holes in that theory.

ALTERMAN: So why the quip about the earlier singles?

COULTER: Because you’re a liberal elitist, that’s why! They became arguably more accessible after The Boy with the Arab Strap, and if it’s one thing you fascists on the left hate, it’s anything the common man enjoys. People like you kept Dale Earnhardt’s death off the front page of the New York Times.

MCLAUGHLIN: Ann, the Times did put Earnheardt’s death on the front page, the very next day.

COULTER: I never said they didn’t!

[Awkward pause]

ALEXANDER: Um, well Ann actually sort-of has a point. The very thing missing from the band’s later period are Stuart Murdoch’s deliciously clever lyrics, which I often think gets lost on fans who enjoy “Nice Day for A Sulk” and Snow Patrol. And there are occasions when they openly flirt with mimicry rather than inspiration from the sun-faded past, such as “Judy is a Dick Slap” and “Take Your Carriage Clock and Shove it.” Still, it’s not like “Lazy Line Painter Jane” is lyrically astonishing, but I’ll be damned if it’s not the best coda they’ve ever done.

WILL: Yes, and I’d posit that “Dog on Wheels” is a very close second.

ALEXANDER: Yes. And “I think I’m waking up to us/we’re a disaster” is one of the greatest couplets in recent memory. Still, it’s undeniable that the first disc exemplifies the charm and character that made Belle & Sebastian the subject of such…uh...

WILL: Obstreperous and uxorial devotion?

ALEXANDER: Uh, sure. And at any rate, it’s also a good deal more consistent: “The State I am in;” “A Century of Fakers;” “String Bean Jean;” “Put the Book Back on the Shelf.”

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, we’re out of time. I’d like to thank my guests for this week’s program: Eric Alterman from The Nation, George Will from Pitchfork Media, Ann Coulter from the NME, and Christopher Alexander from Cokemachineglow.