Monday, February 27, 2006

A breath of heady Scottish air

By the end of 1996, Britpop was in its death throes. Having reached its apex 15 months earlier with the pitched singles battle between Oasis' "Roll With It" and Blur's "Country House," the movement was asphyxiating on a healthy mix of cocaine, lager, and general exorbitance. ("Drugs is like getting up and having a cup of tea in the morning," Noel Gallagher so eloquently told us.)

Some dizzying highs had been attained, sure. But now the creative juices had stopped flowing; lividity was setting in. And in the northern reaches of the U.K., Stuart Murdoch certainly sensed it. "Nobody writes them like they used to/So it may as well be me," he sang in "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying," one of the tracks from 1996's landmark Belle & Sebastian LP, If You're Feeling Sinister.

The song and album were a breath of heady Scottish air in a music scene that had become dominated by daft personalities, unabashed commercialism, and manufactured "Yanks go home!" posturing. Britpop's bombast now gave way to Belle & Sebastian's innocence and subtlety; large, glossy guitar hooks to soft-as-a-breeze melodies. And of course, there was Murdoch's hushed, gorgeous voice -- which stood in stark contrast to the aggressive, Cockney deliveries of gents like Brett Anderson and Damon Albarn. Suddenly, it was okay to be fey.

"Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" is crafted just like many other Murdoch ditties: it's honest (sometimes too honest), yet smilingly wry. "Thought there was love in everything and everyone," Murdoch sings in near-Momus-like tones, before dropping the punchline: "You're so naive!" And he can be playful, too: "You could either be successful, or be us."

"Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" is a nice, easy slice of pop-folk. And it couldn't have come at a better time.

Hear it for yourself. Download: "Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying" by Belle & Sebastian.