Like The Smiths, Belle and Sebastian invoke Andy Warhol on most of their record sleeves. Their new release, "BBC Sessions," is no exception. And the young hippychick, shown in black and white lost in a smile, is suggestive of the experience of hearing B&S, who for the most part showcase their optimistic pop inclinations on "Sessions."
The new record consists of two discs, one a collection of several appearances on BBC radio and one a concert taped in Glasgow in 2001. The BBC disc offers mellow versions of some of the best songs from "Tigermilk," "If You're Feeling Sinister," and their late-90s EPs. The standout track is a reading of "Lazy Line Painter Jane" (here called "Lazy Jane" for some reason), a song rightly considered one of the band's finest hours. The "Lazy Jane" version is, well, lazy sounding, but in a good way, as the melody lilts along without a whole lot of effort. Beautiful. Several unreleased songs, all heavy on Isobel Campbell vocals, end the disc, including the bouncy "Magic of a Kind Word," another standout moment. Over and over again, listeners are reminded of what a big sound B&S creates, combining rock guitars with string arrangements, percussions that echo 60s pop-rock, and even the occasional horn or two.
Even more enjoyable, the high-energy live disc. While the BBC tracks are slightly more mellow than the studio versions, the live tracks sound aggressive and fast. Even with the additional strings, the band never sounds orchestral in a wimpy way. In short, the live set rocks. "Me and the Major" benefits from the speed-it-up ethos of the set. So do covers of "I'm Waiting for the Man" and "The Boys Are Back in Town." Do we need another indie band doing an homage to the Velvet Underground? Yes. The band's reading of "I'm Waiting for the Man" is dirty, fuzzy, free of frills, and essential. With the exception of Yo La Tengo, I don't know another act with the breadth of Belle and Sebastian. Both discs of this new release see the band moving from lush and twee to raucous and fun. Recommended for diehards and newbies alike.