Last night we had some friends over for dinner and they raved about the new Belle and Sebastian album "Write About Love." One of their new songs came on over the
transom XM Radio and our guests stopped the conversation to listen and tell us about how fantastic it is. I've just listened to the full album -- courtesy of NPRMusic.org -- and it is really good.
A reader sent us the link to an NPR "Morning Edition" interview by Steve Inskeep of Stuart Murdoch, the Scottish musician and the lead singer and songwriter for the band. It begins with Inskeep noting that the lyrics of Belle and Sebastian are deeper than the typical pop music fare, that the band's music explores religion.
Even though I've listened to Belle and Sebastian for years, I had never realized that the group's music explored religious themes. The broadcast includes soundbites from "Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John," "If You're Feeling Sinister," and other songs. The "Sinister" song is a not-too-flattering portrayal of the Catholic Church. Inskeep asks about that:
Mr. STUART MURDOCH (Singer-Songwriter, Belle and Sebastian): Yes, a startling lack of faith. When I wrote that song, I was writing from the perspective of somebody who was trying to work things out. Put it this way, I was like a young, fairly hip, 19 or 20-year-old punk who was knocking about Glasgow. But I went to church.
I didn't see any other hipsters or punks at church, so I was maybe kind of writing about the folks that I knew, and my friends. And perhaps, sort of rightly so, I could see why there might be this wall, this divide between them and the church.
But, we're told, his religious themes have continued and become more optimistic over time:
Mr. MURDOCH: I slipped quite easily into it and it's a thing that's never left me. And if you have a thing in your life, which is quiet obviously the biggest thing thats happening, you can't stop thinking about it. And you really shouldn't stop talking about it. Else, you know, we're not in Communist Russia in the '70s, you know.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MURDOCH: You know, I want to talk about the things that I'm feeling. And if I have a force working inside me and something I think about on an hourly basis, then that's what I'm going to write about.
The reader who submitted this story made the rather obvious point that there's a serious lack of information about what, exactly, Mr. Murdoch is feeling. Clearly he's religious. He talks about regularly attending church, about his religious views being a force working inside of him, about singing the church choir, having a deep desire to compose Victorian-style hymns and so on and so forth. But the interviewer never follows up on Murdoch's rather fascinating and atypical (for a rock star, at least) comments by drilling down. In fact, the follow-up to the line above is "Well, let's listen to a little bit of a song from your new recording." So they play a bit from "The Ghost of Rock School" and Murdoch responds:
Mr. MURDOCH: It's always tricky, that line between the sort of pop music and so-called Christian rock, for instance. And I'm not a fan of Christian rock. And...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. MURDOCH: ...I hope that that song doesn't sound too much like that kind of mawkish Christian rock song.
INSKEEP: You're afraid that you might have crossed a line with that song.
Mr. MURDOCH: Well, Im not afraid. Im not scared of anything. But I think a lot of people automatically, they do turn off. And some people start talking about, like God and religion, especially in a kind of straightforward way. But I think it's maybe a way of turning up the volume on life, rather than just going into church and mumbling in cold buildings, as somebody said once.
Again, I feel like we're really getting somewhere but the follow-up question is "Do you edit your lyrics?"
But really my frustration wouldn't even exist if Inskeep didn't brilliantly pick up on the fact that Murdoch's writing is so heavily religious. He and his producers should get major kudos for taking that direction with the interview. I just wish we learned a bit more about Murdoch's religious views and how they influence his art.