To Belle and Sebastian's cult following, devotion knows no bounds. Word-of-mouth buzz launched the group's career in 1996, when the limited pressing of its debut, Tigermilk, shot off shelves in the U.K.
Each subsequent release has expanded the group's cabal of fervent admirers, although 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress put fan loyalty to the test. The group traded its charming twee-folk sound for the slick production of The Buggles' Trevor Horn, garnering a mixed response. While critics embraced the change, many embittered fans felt downright betrayed.
Belle and Sebastian's latest full-length release, The Life Pursuit, is bound to ruffle more feathers. Their last disc found the group dipping its toes in the shallow end of high-gloss pop; this time around, the band dives in headfirst, with Beck's Midnite Vultures producer, Tony Hoffer, taking the production reins.
"Act of the Apostle" sets the tone, with a bossa nova beat reminiscent of Steely Dan. The entire album evokes a retro feel, from the glam-rock swagger of "The Blues Are Still Blue" to the Bowie-esque "For the Price of a Cup of Tea."
Purists will find redemption in "Another Sunny Day," "Dress Up in You" and "To Be Myself Completely," replete with sweet chamber-pop flourishes and a touch of '60s soul.
On The Life Pursuit, Belle and Sebastian want to flex their musical muscle, shedding a fey, bookish reputation for a place in rock 'n' roll. But when it comes to a band that neared perfection on its first release, one can't help but think, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."