This is not just a modern rock song?
Mallory O’Donnell: The aesthetic of disco is often appropriated and oftener approximated by rock and pop acts. Very rarely is it so perfectly, almost clinically exercised as in this case study by Belle and Seabastian. Whether or not they’re mocking disco itself or recent appropriations of such is a moot point: just like tunes by R. Stewart, J. Cocker, and the Bros. Mael this is a great proper big walloping disco song with a wink and a nudge and I plan on dancing to it relentlessly this winter.
Scott Mildenhall: Radio 2 disco played with 6music eyebrows — that is to say raised ones. What exactly they are being raised at — homogeny and conformity? — isn’t altogether clear, but you better know that they are raised, and raised slightly. Insouciant, Stuart Murdoch steps “off into the dark,” “leaving,” “happy to look and run,” at no point having participated. At least, with his “days of glory” in mind, not recently. Perhaps it’s not so much superior as secretly wistful.
Brad Shoup: When the main melodic hook merges with Murdoch’s half-in exhortation, it’s wonderful, like watching the streams cross. The hook needs a body to inhabit; Stuart needs a wingman to convince you he’s not just taking the piss for idle fun. Ten years ago, this would have sounded like Saint Etienne; now, it’s a fresh detour, if not a plausible path forward.
Alfred Soto: Since 2003 B&S have goosed their sound with electronic loops and synths, giving the impression that Stuart Murdoch hits OkCupid looking for quick action. For a while it worked — indeed, it works a couple of times here, notably the way he slides across the line “Where were you when I was king in this part of town?” as if it were a single co-ed on a sofa. The Winnie-the-Pooh voice and that Franz Ferdinand lick are Mace though.
W.B. Swygart: They’ve gone disco before, of course; but they’re a slightly different band now. Where “Your Cover’s Blown” was a six-minute youth club meltdown, here Stewie’s a feller slightly more aware of, if not his age, then his seniority. He sounds like a man who’s very confident in his ability to buy flattering overcoats. As a result, this sounds a touch more conventional than the Belles usually do, and by turn a bit less energised, harder to dig your fingers into. I suppose that’s progress, and that’s not a bad thing, but my heart isn’t exactly swelling.
Cédric Le Merrer: Going back to the cute “Electronic Renaissance” on Tigermilk, through the rarity “Final Day” and a few other experiments, this kind of light dance synth disco has always been in Belle and Sebastian’s repertoire, even if they only ever made it work half the time at best. This is not an interesting-but-flawed experiment, but a fully realised imitation of a bored Of Montreal cover band.
Patrick St. Michel: This isn’t a stylistic shift for Belle and Sebastian, but rather a throwback to “Electronic Renaissance,” the big new-wave blister sticking out on their first album. Except that LP initially counted only 1000 copies in existence, so that song was Stuart Murdoch playing around because, well, why not? “The Party Line” is a desperation heave at relevance in 2014 for a band who slowly became slotted as a legacy act, fated to play If You’re Feeling Sinister at festivals for the rest of their existence. But this fails as a dance-pop-ish song because of how limp it sounds, and it lacks any of the charm usually found in even the most mediocre songs from this bunch. At least “Electronic Renaissance” was a little weird. This is just a flatline.
Anthony Easton: I don’t know what Stuart Murdoch is doing lately, and after hearing The Boy with the Arab Strap a couple of months ago for the first time in years, I wonder if I need to know what Murdoch is doing. He saved my life from 19 to 22, and the loyalty is there. (Literally, all I heard when I was in the hospital a decade ago was Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and I still know every line to “Piazza, New York Catcher.”) But the girl-group project and the production of this confuses me, and that makes me an asshole, because an artist should be able to grow up. I want a little more rawness, and a little less tweeness — no matter how twee B&S were, it was an assuage to the roughness in the world, their rawness a new kind of rawness to the armour required for the world’s rawness. This just seems less vulnerable.
Mark Sinker: Autobiography day apparently. My entry into internet life — and re-entry into thinking about music after a long bruised break — largely depended on a lovely London-based clump of B&S fandom, some of whom are lifelong friends now even though I’ve never really felt especially sinister or even sinister-curious myself. These were people — from all over — who were just good at what constitutes the social, and good at it moreover in the context of the awkward and the shy (not that I’m really either, but a lot of the value of the webspaces I landed in was that it wasn’t just the noisy and the confident who got to speak). Could the same have happened with just a.n.other random fandom? I can’t guess the experiments that would demonstrate this but I’m inclined to think no, no, it’s something quite particular to Belle and Sebastian, and the mark skews accordingly. Even on a song I think is quite dull.
Josh Winters: It’s just a reflection of a reflection.
Thomas Inskeep: Clearly they’ve been listening to some nu-disco, which immediately makes this pretty much the most interesting thing they’ve ever done. Additionally, there’s a hint of Gary Glitter glam. The lyrics — well, as usual, the less said the better.
Danilo Bortoli: When the internet decided it was a good time to revisit Belle and Sebastian’s earlier stuff in the beginning of the aughts, people often used a very particular word to depict the sound of albums like If You’re Feeling Sinister and Tigermilk: “polished.” That was a very correct depiction of the band’s sound, but it also showcased some people’s disdain toward their affable sentimentality. The negative side of that description only began to make sense for me at the time of release of Write About Love, an album so polished it could reach asepsis. “The Party Line” continues to follow this path of safety. It seems they’re trying to recreate an old feeling, trying to lock us inside a cozy, warm time capsule. This trick worked on The Life Pursuit, but given “The Party Line,” it wouldn’t be too risky to assume they have long lost this ability to keep us from the outer world.
Maxwell Cavaseno: Truth be told, art-dance-rock is treacherous territory that’s often traveled, and one can easily fall in someone else’s tracks. Ignore the infamous legends and think of the modern peers Belle and Sebastian face with this single; more warped, and this’d be a decent Klaxons single. More frigid, a decent Junior Boys comeback. More muscular, Phoenix rearing their head once more. B&S are as ever sharp with their craftiness, but they’ve sandblasted this stuff to a point that you can’t see too many individual features.