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Reviews

Belle & Sebastian
The Third Eye Centre Stuart Huggett , September 17th, 2013 10:19

By its nature, The Third Eye Centre, a handsome looking compendium of b-sides and off-cuts from Belle And Sebastian's Rough Trade releases, was never going to be much more than an exercise in fulfilling the band's contractual obligations. If it's not actually aiming to recruit new fans, it's a tough album to recommend even to the casuals. The selection goes beyond merely scattershot to horribly uneven.

The handful of top drawer Belle And Sebastian songs here are spread thinly among tracks that range from the indifferent to the appalling. It's a markedly inferior follow-up their Jeepster era compilation Push Barman To Open Old Wounds, whose chronological sequencing already demonstrated an unfortunate tail-off in quality as the band's exercises in pastiche grew more indulgent.

The Third Eye Centre juggles the timeline, shoving its lowest points to the back of the album in some embarrassment. The crummy Mexicana of Stevie Jackson's 'Mr Richard' and Stuart Murdoch's lazy and farcical 'Meat And Potatoes' both hail from the period of 2006's The Life Pursuit, the band's unsatisfying resurrection of 70s MOR sounds. B&S have recovered some of their personality since, although that album's unused title track does manage to close this collection on a joyous note.

So The Third Eye Centre's real highlights come from either side. 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress offers a celestial Trevor Horn production on Jackson's superior '(I Believe In) Travellin' Light' and The Avalanches' remix of 'I'm A Cuckoo' (given immeasurable extra pleasure by the participation of the Southern Sudanese Choir) deserves its second hearing.

The group's most recent album, 2010's Write About Love, was a gentle, partial return to form, although its few attendant singles means there's a paucity of bonus tracks here to back up that view. Icky narrative perspective aside, Murdoch's 'Suicide Girl' is a driving, synthetic, should-have-been single, and the Richard X remix of 'I Didn't See It Coming' makes this whole project worthwhile, Sarah Martin's disconnected vocal and the Eurodance melody a combination the equal of Saint Etienne's heart-stopping 'He's On The Phone'.

Belle And Sebastian fans have long ago learned to take the rough with the smooth and the quality control on The Third Eye Centre is all over the shop. The odd flashes of wonder within show they're still not a lost cause though. Focus, boy, focus.

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