Album Of The Week: Belle and Sebastian – Late Developers

The Scottish indie pop poets return with a surprise album to give us our pick of the week's new releases

You wait three years for a new Belle and Sebastian album and then two come along together… Holed up in a makeshift Glasgow studio during lockdown, the band recorded enough material for two whole LPs – giving us A Bit Of Previous last summer and saving another 11 songs for a surprise January drop. 

But this isn’t just the offcuts. Evenly assembled from the batch of new songs written during the pandemic, each album now stands as a companion to the other – two double A-sides reflecting the most prolific period of the band’s life. Just as disparate yet somehow more cohesive than A Bit Of Previous, the second album lands harder, happier, more emotional and equally as varied. Listening to Late Developers is almost like hearing a greatest hits of new material; like flicking through Belle and Sebastian FM. 

Here, then, are all the different hats the band have worn over the last few decades. The witty, soulful brand of literary indie pop they helped to define drives everything, but you’ll also find glam rock, 60s Motown, 70s disco, 80s synths, chamber pop, power ballads and every other Belles phase since Dear Catastrophe Waitress

Belle and Sebastian- "I Don't Know What You See in Me" (Official Music Video)

Lead single ‘I Don’t Know What You See In Me’ (so Mika it’s almost Eurovision) is an odd choice to promo the album as it doesn’t sound like anything else on the record. But then neither does anything else.

Opening with ‘Juliet Naked’, Belle and Sebastian jump straight into their unused back catalogue. Originally written for the 2018 Ethan Hawke romcom, it might have fit the film perfectly if Wes Anderson had directed it. ‘Give A Little Time’ sounds like the best Camera Obscura song never sung – which is probably permissible since Tracyanne Campbell joins the band on ‘When The Cynics Stare Back From The Wall’. 

Duetting with Stuart Murdoch on the rarest track of them all, Campbell’s contribution updates an unearthed gem from 1995 – written before Belle and Sebastian even formed and now sounding like an extra bit of Tigermilk you didn’t know existed. 

Other highlights chip in even earlier. ‘When We Were Very Young’ drags up all the old Smiths comparisons and makes them seem just as misdirected, with a clean swipe of minor key indie finding the band at their most brilliantly bittersweet (“I wish I could be content / With the football scores / I wish I could be content with my daily chores / With my daily worship of the sublime”). 

Bouncing off the ironies of singing coming-of-age songs when you’re old enough to have “kids and dystopia”, Late Developers veers wonderfully from the dancefloor to the smoking area to the last bus home and back again. Sometimes lost in the beat (‘So In The Moment’), often intimate (‘Will I Tell You a Secret’) the harpsichords and synths mingle in the middle like rival gangs at a school dance.

Ending with the title track (why not?), Belle and Sebastian are already right back on a festival stage. Here’s brass, gospel, organs, and the kind of catchy chorus that already looks like Murdoch standing on a speaker, hat tipped back, getting the whole field to clap above their heads. Summer’s come early this year.

Late Developers is available to buy and stream from Friday 13 January. Belle and Sebastian are touring the UK in summer 2023, with tickets available here.