Coming from almost anyone else, Belle & Sebastian’s “Step Into My Office, Baby” (“I wanna give you the job / A chance for overtime”) would sound dirty. But from these twee Scots, for whom temerity has never been an issue, it sounds more cute than creepy, as though they’ve finally decided that playing at grown-up can be as much fun as playing at permanent uni student. Dear Catastrophe Waitress (Rough Trade) is Stuart Murdoch and his crew at their most urbane, and if their idea of urbanity, and maybe adulthood altogether, seems largely copped from Doris Day movies, their willingness to set up shop on the corner of clever and foolish has always been endearing. On 1996’s If You’re Feeling Sinister (Matador) they sighed as though teen bisexuality were the pinnacle of kink and falling asleep midbook a mark of genius, and damned if I didn’t buy it. They were unable to elaborate on the wan art-school sensibility they captured so accurately on that album or on its matching folk-rock shuffle, however, and their follow-ups were only minor pleasures. On the new CD their career-long flirtation with orchestral pop has blossomed into a full-blown infatuation, and they conduct their tryst tastefully, with potentially goopy moments taking nuanced turns. On the title track, for instance, a mariachi blast softens unexpectedly, becoming a muted cool-jazz tone. They sound older, and wiser as well: on “Lord Anthony” Murdoch advises a schoolboy similar to his younger self (“When will you realize / It doesn’t pay to be smarter than teachers / Smarter than most boys?”) while assuring him that life will someday be easier, and on “If She Wants Me,” maybe Belle & Sebastian’s loveliest moment to date, Murdoch muses, “If I could do just one near perfect thing I’d be happy,” then decides he’d rather toss aside all ambition and just hang with his baby a little longer. Thursday, October 30, 7:30 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee; 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marisa Privitera.