Belle and Sebastian
How To Solve Our Human Problems (Parts 2 and 3)
People always say that sequels can never live up to the original. Belle and Sebastian’s second and third installments of their three-EP series How To Solve Our Human Problems proves this isn’t so, with Parts 2 and 3 more than living up to Part 1. An adventurous step out of expectations has served them well, producing a further two sets of five songs, all beautiful and unique in their own ways.
Of course, this is a sequel in more ways than one. A spiritual successor of sorts to their 1997 release of three consecutive EPs (Dog On Wheels, Lazy Line Painter Jane, and 3.. 6.. 9 Seconds Of Light), whether or not this trilogy 21 years later will stack up to that legendary run, perhaps only time will tell.
While EP 1 felt more political in its intentions, Parts 2 and 3 seem to have taken on a more personal stride. A Plague On Other Boys in particular deals with an infatuation, which the narrator cannot forget even a decade later. Sarah Martin’s The Same Star is full of growth and resilience; she recognises the harm caused by a former suitor, whilst also acknowledging her need for guidance amongst rough seas. This story seems to be revisited on EP 3’s Poor Boy, a duet between her and Stuart Murdoch, who plays the role of an obsessed ex that she is trying to fight off. Cornflakes feels as though it’s a letting off of steam with little regard for lyrical prowess. To be honest, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that when you’ve got as funky a track behind it.
Then, of course, you have single I’ll Be Your Pilot which delves into the seemingly neglected lyrical area of familial love and devotion, perhaps something we need more of.
There Is An Everlasting Song starts off on such a personal note, but gets broader as it continues with references to media’s vapidness and the like. It comes full circle in the end, with the protagonist admiring of the strength of birds who have no fear of the winter cold, and perhaps wishing he could be the same.
Despite the intriguing tales behind the tracks, the music itself is the strength. Show Me The Sun begins with a chorus of a familiar-sounding “na-na-na’s” which are soon joined by a fantastically funky bassline. On a couple of occasions we even get AC/DC-like shreds; so unlike B&S but so exciting and fitting.
On the other end of the spectrum, Cornflakes could almost be a Kinks song if you didn’t know better. Stevie Jackson has that 60s kind of voice which slots in flawlessly with the retro-sounding synths and bounding bass which backs it up. More of that old-timey feel is explored on Poor Boy and Too Many Tears which employ the disco genre explored so effectively on last album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance, and quite amusingly when you consider the morose lyrical content. The Same Star’s soft, lullaby-like vibe is quite traditional B&S but it is gorgeous and not at all banal. Hints of horns and synth pick up towards the end, amping up the pace but to the perfect degree.
EP 3 also heralds a return to Everything is Now from EP 1, with its second part. Musically it almost copy and pastes the sounds from the first track, but it contains far more lyric-wise. Yet another duet, the male and female protagonists grapple at their respective issues, with the male yearning – perhaps uselessly –to abate those of his love.
The only track that feels a little out of place is Best Friend which concludes EP 3. Carla J. Easton from TeenCanteen collaborated on this light pop tune about friends with benefits. The appeal is there, but it just doesn’t feel very Belle and Sebastian. Granted, this isn’t always a bad thing, but in this case it feels too far from ‘them’ to slot in.
Belle and Sebastian know just how to hit the balance between fitting into the contemporary and grasping on to what makes them unique. Amongst 15 songs in this trilogy, there were minimal wrong moves and a clear level of heart and thought injected into each.