El's Reviews > Belle and Sebastian: Just a Modern Rock Story

Belle and Sebastian by Paul Whitelaw
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's review
Jul 20, 2008

it was ok
bookshelves: cultural-studies-and-other, radio-ga-ga
Read in July, 2008

Glasgow writer Paul Whitelaw offers the first Belle & Sebastian biography with his 2005 book. As a first band biography it is complete in discussing the band - both as individual band members as well as the band as a whole. Whitelaw interviewed most of the members of B&S and had access to some of Stuart Murdoch's correspondence. The problem with a lot of music biographies is that they are generally written by some of the biggest fans. On one hand this allows them access to a lot of the inner workings of the members' thoughts; on the other hand, as in the case here with Whitelaw, the author is completely biased and clearly chooses his favorites. Often Whitelaw managed to also be such an incredible ass-kisser that it made me "wince" (a favorite word of his throughout the text).

The relationship between Stuart Murdoch and Isobel Campbell is one that fans of B&S have been intrigued by since the beginning. As Whitelaw points out, both Stuart and Isobel were just as confused by the relationship as well. Whitelaw spend a considerable amount of time discussing their relationship, to the point of distraction. He habitually jumped around in his chronology, making the reading confusing when at times it felt like he repeated a lot of the same information. Whitelaw's fascination with "the curious boy", Stuart Murdoch, was possibly the most frustrating part to read - particularly when it came to knocking Isobel Campbell down a few stairs in the process. As an innocent bystander as myself I can say that I feel both Stuart and Isobel were both whiny and probably deserved each other; but Stuart's take on the relationship (as is typical in most band relationships) is a little harsher than is perhaps necessary.

And for any fan of B&S how important is the relationship really in comparison to the music? Isobel went on to make incredible solo music and to work with the legendary (in some circles) Mark Lanegan. Her music is of a different nature, most of which is actually quite great. It often felt that Whitelaw was personally offended when Isobel left the band for greener pastures. I would have much preferred he removed his nose from Murdoch's butt and shown a little less judgment about the other members of the band, other fans, etc. As far as journalistic writing goes, unbias is still best.

Not the worst bio I've read, but certainly not the best. It could have been much better and everyone could have been shown in a less reverential and more honest light, despite Whitelaw's clear attemps at trying to portray it all so candidly.
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