Belle And Sebastian
Push Barman To Open Old Wounds
2005
A-



i confess that most of my excitement when I heard that Belle and Sebastian were collecting the seven EPs they released from 1997 to 2001 had to do with matters of room. Although I hadn’t gotten around to obtaining all seven, I did have four, and I hated the cardboard slipcase the first three came packaged in, so Push Barman To Open Old Wounds let me clear up some much-needed space on my shelves and saves me from having to shuffle discs when I want to listen to this music.

And that, just to warn hard-core collectors, is all it does. The booklet reproduces the lyrics, EP covers, recording information and even the stories from the Lazy Line Painter Jane and 3… 6… 9 Seconds Of Light EPs, and every track from each EP is presented on these two discs in order, but there are no exclusives here. If you own the seven EPs there is no reason to get this collection, unless like me you prefer the more compact format.

Those who have never heard these EPs, on the other hand…

When the Books EP (not collected here) came out, I made mention of Belle and Sebastian’s new sound, the second phase of their career. Short of praying Stuart Murdoch gets hit on the head and loses his memory of everything after 1997 this is the closest we’re going to come to hearing that sound again, and while the band’s first three albums are all justly praised, the real defining documents of their earlier work are the first four EPs collected here. The long domestically available Lazy Line Painter Jane set (which collects the titular EP, Dog On Wheels and 3… 6… 9 Seconds Of Light), that comprises disc one of this collection is good enough I’ve had friends claim it would have made a better album than The Boy With The Arab Strap; I respectfully disagree, but what’s here is solid enough I can see where they’re coming from.

Unsurprisingly, Stuart Murdoch and his merry band of shy retirers first tinkered with the idea of expanding their sound on these smaller-scale releases. “Le Pastie De La Bourgeoisie” is probably the closest the band will ever get to power pop, and makes you wish they’d toughened up more often; “Lazy Line Painter Jane” itself with guest Monica Queen was their first, very successful try at tackling soul, and even more conventional songs like “Dog On Wheel,” “Photo Jenny,” and “Beautiful” are easily the equal of anything on If You’re Feeling Sinister and its companions. One of the highlights here is actually a re-recording of Tigermilk’s “The State I Am In,” with the same instrumentation but cleaner, brighter production that makes you wish they’d go back and remaster or re-record their debut.

But it is 1998’s This Is Just A Modern Rock Song EP, the only one on this collection previously unavailable domestically, that is the true jewel in Belle and Sebastian Mark 1’s crown. Not only does it boast my favourite Isobel Campbell track ever (“The Gate”) and probably my favourite Belle and Sebastian song period (“Slow Graffiti”), but in the epic title track they made their definitive statement, the sound of bedsits imploding and lives collapsing, taking shots at everyone right up to the band. “This Is Just A Modern Rock Song” and “Slow Graffiti” alone justify everything the band had done up until that point. This EP is the only one I might keep because it’s the only one that is so good you might want to listen to it without the surrounding tracks.

The remaining three EPs that fill out disc two of Push Barman To Open Old Wounds thankfully don’t let you down; 60s pastiche “Legal Man” is almost impossibly summery, “The Loneliness Of A Middle Distance Runner” and “I’m Waking Up To Us” are as strong as anything on Dear Catastrophe Waitress and “Jonathan David” is probably the best song Stevie Jackson has yet written. The synthesizer workout “Judy Is A Dick Slap” and (back on disc one) ex-bassist Stuart David’s monologue “A Century Of Elvis” are the closest the songs here come to being inessential, and unless you’re pressed for time it’s unlikely you’ll mind even them.

Push Barman To Open Old Wounds is not only a collection of some of Belle and Sebastian’s best songs, it’s also probably the best introduction to the band for those interested. The quality level is almost inhumanly high, and the range of the tracks here gives you a better idea of what the band is like than any of their individual albums. Regardless of whether fans are content to stick to their copies of the originals or not, if you’re coming to these songs for the first time this is the best way to get them all.


Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2005-05-27
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