The worry was that Belle & Sebastian had settled into a comfortable, premature middle age -- treading water in their tried and true, admittedly pleasant formula but slowly relinquishing their potential to greatly move us. That notion is hereby dispelled, nay, smashed to smithereens by this wonderful piece of art. "I'm Waking Up to Us" is the matter that striking pop is made up of, like a golden Bacharach staple, where sharp acoustic guitars, a chiming lead, supple bass, resonant background violins, agreeable piano, and a trio of bassoon, oboe, and flute cameos combine to supply the perfect tuneful four-minute pop song. Having drawn us in like sorcerers to this lush, tantalizing, but precarious concoction, Stuart Murdoch delivers one of his most sterling and memorable vocal performances, perfectly timed to correspond to an equally accomplished set of direct-feeling words. He was always a vigorous poet, but he outdoes even himself here, impressively turning a superb firsthand soul-search into regretful acidity. This is the sort of rich lyrical complexity, with the unfolding hook of narrative like a great film, that top shelf '60s pop once trafficked in -- but no longer cares a rats ass to deliver. And it doesn't stop there, on the two other non-LP B-sides. "I Love My Car" is a sublime one-two quarter-note rhythm step meeting both a playful feel, and an equally frilly, intoxicated lyric highlighted by a clever Beach Boys tribute. Then, as a fitting closer, "Marx and Engels" is another lithe piano-led pretty-gem, the kind that made this U.K. collective cult-famous. It's yet three more minutes of pure bliss, punctuated by a sumptuous turn on the ivories at the close. You'll never see this on an LP, but that just makes it more of must purchase.
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AllMusic Review by Jack Rabid