Alex Enaholo reflects on Glasgow icons Belle and Sebastian's sophomore album If You're Feeling Sinister as an album packed with tales of Glasgow, youth, and connections to home.
Walking along Cecil Street, at about ten in the evening, in the December of my first year, from Great Western Road towards campus, I felt truly at home in Glasgow for the first time. It was the middle of exams, and I was heading to the library to cram some revision, despite the bracing wind and the beginnings of a snowstorm. Through my Airpods, Belle and Sebastian’s sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister was playing. Outside one of the flats a fluffy, bold, young fox pup trotted across a garden. The song just beginning was The Fox In The Snow. Main character energy to say the least.
The album, released in 1996, is a love letter to Glasgow. Vivacious, indie-guitar riffs garnished with cello strings, harmonicas and penny whistles, all underpin Stuart Murdoch’s enigmatic lyrics that spin romantic stories of tenement windows and Glasgow Uni students. In that moment on Cecil Street I finally felt like an insider, like I could be one of the stars of track and field, or the boy they were all after in Like Dylan In The Movies. My flat is right next to the Cottiers Theatre, which in the 90s was the rehearsal space for Belle and Sebastian. I like to imagine the people who lived there at the time, overhearing wolf notes from the band – back then a group of college students, wary of the spotlight and named after a French children’s book about a boy and his dog. In all honesty, it is part of the reason I chose the tenement I live in and, each morning I wake up there, I feel connected to the music and the city even more.
The standout, eponymous track of the album is If You’re Feeling Sinister, a tragic, yet hilarious, dissection of what it means to be young and agnostic. Another favourite of mine is the piano ballad The Boy Done Wrong Again, one of the most gloriously miserable songs ever written, about feeling like a failure and terrible sex. The vocals take a guarded, optimistic tone towards the final lines, which always reminds me that there is hope, even at the lowest moments. The best thing though, is that there are no skips. Each of the ten tracks is a unique fully-fledged concept of its own, with an individual character and tone, making the album almost transcend a collection of songs. Instead, it is an anthology of short stories.
The album is not just the soundtrack of my life, but also of my mother’s – 25 years earlier when she was a student in Edinburgh. I have vague memories of her playing it around the house when I was four or five. Last semester, during the Tier 4 lockdown, I would sit in my bed and look out the lonely window, listening to the album on repeat because it reminds me so much of her. The irony of this is that when I was at home over summer, I would play the album and think of the West End, of my friends and my Uni life, it was the sound of happier times.
I guess that to me the album sounds like home, both at university and with my family; it sounds like the past and present all rolled into one beautiful, chamber-pop masterpiece.
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