Belle and Sebastian includes: Stuart Murdoch, Stuart David, Isobel Campbell, Stevie Jackson.
Additional personnel: Gail Anderson, Claire Campbell, Eilidh Campbell, Euan Forrester, David D. MacKay, Sarah Wilson (strings); Ian MacKay (pipes); Neil Robertson (bass).
Recording information: Ca Va Studios.
After 1997's IF YOU'RE FEELING SINISTER made them critics' darlings, Scottish octet Belle And Sebastian ran straight into a series of label woes, and into the inevitable feeding frenzy that surrounds a free agent with their prodigious talents. Their experience with one label exec is detailed in "Seymour Stein" on THE BOY WITH THE ARAB STRAP, which finds the band building on the pastoral pop charms of SINISTER, adding a palpable layer of anger and an increasingly rich sonic palette to their painfully shy tales of despair.
Near-overnight success taught the band a lot. This album moves from their trademark confessional diary sketches (still in abundance, as on the disarmingly naive "Is It Wicked Not To Care," and the tender "Rollercoaster Ride") to genuine social criticism, as on the title track, a narrative meditation on Britain's pretensions and societal ills. "Chickfactor" pulls apart the banality the band encountered on arrival in New York, an experience which only served to deepen the bashful anger that makes Belle and Sebastian so endearing.
Rolling Stone (9/17/98, pp.96-98) - 4 Stars (out of 5) - "...naive and fragile on the outside, tough with knowledge of obscure psychedelic pop records on the inside....the soundtrack to staying too long in your college neighborhood and becoming one of those types who hold down library jobs..."
Spin (10/98, p.140) - 8 (out of 10) - "...this...is a pastoral album whose minor accomplishments add up to tremendous power when heard as a whole. Murdoch and his disciples...refuse to do anything in broad strokes, which means nothing here wears out over repeated listenings, but that you also have to lean into the album to get much out of it..."
Entertainment Weekly (9/11/98, p.132) - "...Murdoch can apparently make a witty yet heartfelt song of anything that crosses his mind, from a dirty dream...to turning down a record executive's invitation to dinner..."
- Rating: A-
Q (12/99, p.100) - Included in Q Magazine's "90 Best Albums Of The 1990s."
Billboard (p.36) - "ARAB STRAP remains a definitive document for fans and historians of the genre."
Pitchfork (Website) - "[A] welcome embrace of classicism and craft, recalling '60s pop and homespun '80s indie but locating something more intimate than either."