The first thing you need to know about the latest Belle and Sebastian album is that it's produced by Trevor Horn, the man behind Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The second is that it's funny. This Scottish seven-piece has always had a dark sense of humor, but here it's in the music as well, and it's gone barmy: When Stuart Murdoch sings, in "I'm a Cuckoo," about listening to "Thin Lizzy-o," dual electric guitars play a melody in harmony as if copping a riff from "The Boys Are Back in Town."
Surprisingly, Horn's presence isn't at all overbearing. The sound hasn't significantly slickened, but the performances are tighter, confident, even bouncy, bringing the band much closer to the vintage pop and soul records it adores. Belle and Sebastian are still twee, but with a twist and shout.