Proving that the comeback of 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress was no fluke, Belle & Sebastian's sixth full-length album, The Life Pursuit, is a sleek, stylish affair that finds the group quietly pursuing new ground without forsaking its trademark witty, literary, tuneful pop. In retrospect, Dear Catastrophe Waitress wasn't so much a comeback as a restart, finding Stuart Murdoch reasserting himself as the group's undisputed leader in the wake of the departure of Stuart David and Isobel Campbell, but equally as important was the presence of superstar producer Trevor Horn, who didn't gloss up B&S as much as gave them focus and direction, along with a greater musical palette. The Life Pursuit is the logical next step forward, retaining Murdoch's signature wry vignettes but dressing them in new sonic colors. Although their collaboration with Horn started Belle & Sebastian on this path, he has been replaced with producer Tony Hoffer, best known for his work on Beck's Guero, Air's 10,000 Hz Legend, and Supergrass' Life on Other Planets. On each of those records, Hoffer was able to retain the artist's core identity while expanding their musical horizons, and that's the case with The Life Pursuit. Here, Belle & Sebastian dabble in glam rock, lazy lounge jazz, and ersatz blues, enhancing their swinging '60s pop fixation with horn charts, the occasional flute, and Motown rhythms, while even rocking harder than ever before (but that's on a relative scale, of course). This results in a fresh, lively listen, but a rich one too, since there's more to hear in the music as well as the words upon repeated listens. It's not a radical departure for Belle & Sebastian -- there are several intimate, folky numbers that would comfortably fit on their previous records. But having these tunes surrounded by songs that successfully stretch the group's sound gives The Life Pursuit an unexpected, wholly welcome vitality that not only produces a satisfying album, but suggests that a decade removed from their masterwork, If You're Feeling Sinister, Belle & Sebastian have managed to find a way to grow without changing their identity.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine