It really snuck up on us, this new Belle and Sebastian record. Here we were, waiting patiently for news about the release of the God Help the Girl film (if you want a quick thrill, take a close look at that project’s list of backers–under “M”), and the band quietly decides to put out a second collection of non-LP tracks, Third Eye Centre, due next Tuesday.

Belle___Sebastian_-_The_Third_Eye_Centre_1372770039_crop_550x550There are some people out there who will talk disparagingly about B&S’s more recent output, who wish, perhaps, that the band had called it quits where their first (breathtaking) collection of non-LP tracks came to a close. We feel sorry for these people! Especially if they missed the pop masterpiece known as The Life Pursuit, or such gems as “Your Cover’s Blown” (the new remix on Third Eye Centre is brilliant!) and “The Ghost of Rockschool”, side projects like God Help the Girl or (I Can’t Get No) Stevie Jackson. Fans of intelligent pop will find much to enjoy, to say nothing of those looking for a genuine yet non-alienating religious dimension. Stuart Murdoch is a master in that respect. We’ve spoken elsewhere about his ingeniously peripheral approach to matters divine, but that doesn’t mean he’s always been coy about his faith. There is one instance in particular where he got glaringly direct: the breezy “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love” off of 2003’s Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Reviewers at the time were perplexed by what sounded like a straight-ahead Christian pop song, and you can’t exactly blame them. The opening verse–“If you find yourself caught in love/ Say a prayer to the man above/ Thank him for everything you know/ You should thank him for every breath you blow”–contained barely a trace of the wistful cynicism they had come to know and love.

Was Murdoch putting them/us on? Considering the many similar sentiments on the next two full-lengths, the answer is a resounding no. He was being sincere, but he was also being playful. I’m not sure how those two things came to be understood as mutually exclusive–in practice at least, especially where the Eternal is involved–but the dich0tomy has clearly never crossed Belle and Sebastian’s radar screen. Which is a big part of what makes their music so refreshing and, well, wonderful.

In fact, far from being an anomaly, “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love” is pretty indicative of the band’s charm. The warmth and wit and prettiness aren’t there to hide the lyrical bite and counter-cultural heft as much as augment it. Whimsy and reverence can co-exist, gloriously so, especially when belief has lowered the existential stakes and provided a buffer, consciously or not, against cynicism. Usually when you find a serious band that doesn’t take itself seriously, there’s some element of despair fueling the work; Belle and Sebastian is one of the only bands I can think of where faith in God seems to be producing the same result. And it’s delightful. I mean, what other band would include the lines “the only freedom that you’ll ever really know/ is written in books from long ago/ give up your will to Him who loves you” and “something has to give/ you’re too good looking not to live” in the same bridge?! And then end with a lighthearted but no less serious affirmation of pacifism, and somehow make it all sound like matter-of-fact friendly advice? Sure, the If-Then structure does set off some legal bells, but this is so clearly the “first use” kind of admonition–just about the only time I’ve ever heard it done effectively in this idiom. This music has dimension with a capital D. Plus, it really swings:

If you find yourself caught in love
Say a prayer to the man above
Thank him for everything you know
You should thank him for every breath you blow

If you find yourself caught in love
Say a prayer to the man above
You should thank him for every day you pass
Thank him for saving your sorry ass

If you’re single, but looking out
You must raise your prayer to a shout
Another partner must be found
Someone to take your life beyond
Another TV ‘I Love 1999′
Just one more box of cheapo wine

If you find yourself caught in love
You should say a prayer to the man above

If you don’t listen to the voices then my friend
You’ll soon run out of choices
What a pity it would be
You talk of freedom don’t you see
The only freedom that you’ll ever really know
Is written in books from long ago
Give up your will to Him that loves you
Things will change, I’m not saying overnight
But something has to give
You’re too good looking not to live

If you find yourself out of love
Shed a tear for the one you love
Tell your boss that you’ve gone away
Down your tools for a holiday
If you’re going off to war then I wish you well
But don’t be sore
If I cheer the other team
Killing people’s not my scene
I prefer to give the inhabitants a say
Before you blow their town away
I like to watch them play
I like to marvel at the random beauty of a simple village girl
Why should she be the one who’s killed? If you find yourself caught in love…