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Cover Art Belle & Sebastian
The Boy with the Arab Strap
[Matador; 1998]
Rating: 0.8

Mediocrity is not a punishable crime, but if it was, Belle & Sebastian would be enjoying their last meal right about now. This Scottish septet, who made a truly wonderful album last year called If You're Feeling Sinister, has decided to parody themselves on their American debut, The Boy with the Arab Strap. And a fine job they did, lads.

Whereas Sinister was filled with huge hooks, loungy chord change-ups, and a fistful or two of bitingly catty lyrics, The Boy is seriously lacking in all of that and more. Sinister was compared to Nick Drake and Fairport Convention; The Boy will maybe remind you of the Starland Vocal Band. These are songs so sticky they should be hanging from Ben Stiller's ear, and I don't mean that in a good way.

The band's spacey experiment in spoken word isn't a plus, and neither are the wilted bouquets of bedroom poetry. Are we still learning from the Mel Bay book of guitar? Where are the interesting chords? Only the title cut offers up something fun, and that just sounds like a glorified Hollies song.

Really, Sinister is well worth your time, but whatever an Arab Strap is, it should be used to batten down the crap song hatch. Maybe next time they'll get it back together. I hope so.

-Jason Josephes, October, 1998






10.0: Essential
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional; will likely rank among writer's top ten albums of the year
8.0-8.4: Very good
7.5-7.9: Above average; enjoyable
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible