There’s got to be a morning after

Belle and Sebastian weather heartache and pain to produce the cutest pop around.

Keri Carlson

From the beginning, Belle and Sebastian has been Stuart Murdoch’s thing. Formed as a project for Murdoch’s college assignments, Belle and Sebastian was intended to remain small-scale and short-term. In fact, the group originally planned on breaking up after two albums. But Murdoch gradually built up a seven-piece band that was too talented to allow the group to stay tucked away in cafes and tiny local record stores.

Belle and Sebastian released their first album “Tigermilk” in 1996, pressing only 1,000 copies. “Tigermilk” quickly became a sensation throughout England, and the record achieved legend-like status based solely on word of mouth. After Belle and Sebastian’s second album, “If You’re Feeling Sinister,” the band’s reputation spread beyond British record geeks and across the Atlantic to the United States.

Both “Tigermilk” and “If You’re Feeling Sinister” established Belle and Sebastian as the creators of a beautiful orchestral pop sound. Murdoch reached deep inside his characters for sweet and sincere songs with an edge of humor and clever word play. The band enhanced the whimsicalness of the songs with jangly 1960s pop and elegant peaks of swirling strings and horns. “Tigermilk” and “Sinister” saw the band revolving around Murdoch’s vision, a fact that makes these albums the favorites of most fans and critics.

For their next albums, “The Boy With the Arab Strap” and “Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant,” the group took a more democratic approach to songwriting responsibilities, splitting the tracks between band members. Isobel Campbell and Stevie Jackson have written classic Belle and Sebastian tunes. Murdoch’s songs, however, remain the most memorable. Even when Campbell’s and Jackson’s songs shine, the diversity has resulted in somewhat directionless albums.

When Campbell left the band for her project, Gentle Waves, along with Stuart David for his project, Looper, and 2002’s film score “Storytelling” turned out to be quite a disappointment, it seemed the band was slowly dying.

But the newly released “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” proves Belle and Sebastian is nowhere close to its grave.

“Catastrophe” is an effervescent musical dance through an office and over to a quaint restaurant all the while struggling for innocent and naive love. “If She Wants Me” highlights classic Belle and Sebastian lyrics as Murdoch sings in airy vocals, “I wrote a letter on a nothing day Ö You are too young to put all of your hopes in just one envelope.”

The band always comes close to crossing the line into disgusting cuteness, especially on “If You Find Yourself Caught in Love.” The lyrics “If you’re single but looking out/You must raise your prayer to a shout/Another partner must be found” are not the words bitter and lonely singles want to hear. But Belle and Sebastian stay just shy of crossing that line.

While a number of fans cringe at “Catastrophe’s” step toward 1970s sitcom pop, this album feels more centered and complete. As with Belle and Sebastian’s first two albums, Murdoch is once again at the center.