Mixtapes for Hookers

2003. Song #4 Hung About The Tenderloin

4. Belle and Sebastian, Piazza, New York Catcher

I’ve been a stereotypical Belle and Sebastian fan from the first time I pressed play:  I bought If You’re Feeling Sinister on a high school trip to France because Jarvis Cocker told the papers that he liked it; I got a third or fourth-generation Tigermilk tape from a stranger on the internet; I bought The Boy With The Arab Strap the day it came out and then carried it to school the next day for no reason whatsoever, just on the off chance that someone might ask me if there was anything new and exciting in my backpack that day.  I wasn’t making lifesized models of the Velvet Underground in clay, but I may as well have been, and I did get very uppity when people didn’t know who Scott Walker was.  (I only knew who Scott Walker was because someone on B&S’s Sinister list put him on a mixtape they sent me.)  Stuart Murdoch was shamelessly high school-ish and I was shamefully in high school.

That was the nineties.  By 2003 I had grown up, and so had they.  While it was cool in 1996 to flaunt anti-social bookishness, the new millennium was about exploring New Things.  In Belle and Sebastian’s case, New Things meant producer Trevor Horn, he of the Buggles, fresh off producing the breakthrough album for tAtU.  With Horn’s guidance, Belle and Sebastian’s fifth full-length ventured off in all kinds of different directions, most notably on Stay Loose, which sounds downright clubby.

Still, the album’s real highlight is just as adolescent as the group’s early work.  Piazza, New York Catcher is just Murdoch and his guitar; lacking the trumpet and strings that gave the group its trademark sound, Murdoch makes up for sonic simplicity with lyrical density and a tangle of transcontinental allusions seemingly made specially to confuse people.

On the surface this song could have come from Tigermilk–there’s someone suffering from some sort of religious mania and someone else whose favorite book “always” makes them cry.  But then Murdoch’s name-checking American baseball players and talking about privy seals.  He assumes listeners know the lyrics to Walk Away Renee, and he makes a pun about the Willie Mays statue at Candlestick Park.

He does it because he can; Murdoch knows his audience, and knows they’re more likely to own Left Banke LPs than know about major league gay rumors.  He also knows his fans won’t mind a slackerish love song written from the perspective of a fussy know-it-all.

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