Belle and Sebastian might not be able to solve all our problems (as the title of their latest implies), but they can handle the ones that involve a lack of witty, tuneful indie-pop. This 15-track set offers a tasting menu of the Scottish band’s strengths. Would you like a bittersweet ballad about that autumn feeling? They’ve got you (“Fickle Season”). A glammed-up strut about faith and doubt? Sure thing (“Show Me the Sun”). An enchanting Motown throwback about pining for the wrong person? Take your pick (“The Same Star,” “Best Friend”)! There’s also a dissonant freak-out about walking around Glasgow (“Cornflakes”), if that sounds like something you might be into.
These songs were originally split into three standalone EPs, a nod to the trio of short-form classics that B&S released in 1997, at the height of their tea-and-sympathy years. In musical terms, Problems stays closer to the brighter pop hues they’ve favored ever since 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. For longtime fans, it’s a reminder that Belle and Sebastian 2.0 has now lasted more than twice as long as the original version did.
If that makes you feel old, rest assured that Stuart
Murdoch knows your pain. The biggest and best surprise on this album is “We
Were Beautiful,” a sweeping drum ‘n’ bass ‘n’ pedal steel number about a
midlife crisis in an apocalyptic warzone. Or maybe it’s just about being stuck
in an insufferably hip coffee shop. Whatever the case, it works way better than
it ought to. So does the album.