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Taking sides: Belle & Sebastian -- Indie-pop legends or comfort-rock enablers?

Scottish indie icons Belle & Sebastian mosey on into Constitution Hall tonight. You wouldn't think such a pleasant band would inspire such aggressive arguing but that's exactly the case. Some of us think they are rightful heirs to the gentle-folk-pop throne; others think they write nauseating, unadventurous songs that have been a pox on the musical landscape. We brought in a special guest, The Fix's Chris Cilliza, to help us out with this one. See what everyone said after the jump.

Chris Cillizza: I don't just love them, I lerf them, I loave them. (With apologies to Woody Allen). My adoration for B&S has brought me unending grief from my friends over the years but I have stood strong. I dare anyone to listen to "The Boy with the Arab Strap" and not find it a terrifically catchy pop song. Seriously, try it.

Chris Richards: I was introduced to the indie-pop frailty of Belle & Sebastian where it made complete sense: In quiet college dorm room where a friend of mine was studying for finals. "The Stars of Track and Field" had a cute, memorable chorus, but I wasn't moved. Seven years later, I saw Belle & Sebastian where it made absolutely no sense: On a gigantic stage at the Coachella music festival. How had music this dainty, this boring, this noxiously precious been elevated to champion status? I couldn't figure it out. The Burt-Bacharach-for-preschoolers songcraft of bandleader Stuart Murdoch was irritating, but it was Murdoch's singing that really made my blood cells boil -- a cool, coy delivery that triggered an almost Belushian response.

Years later, my micro-rage has simmered. But I still have macro-beef. In the aughties, indie rock became comfort rock for a Google-addled generation that didn't want to face the realities of an America at war. Suddenly, rock bands across the indie spectrum sounded uniformly adorable and terribly unadventurous. If you buy this pet theory and want to peg the blame squarely on one particularly influential Scottish band, they're playing Constitution Hall tonight at 8 p.m.

David Malitz: You don't really want to play the whole "let's knock a band for all the bad bands they influenced" game, do you? I know Belle & Sebastian can be just a bit overly-precious at times but I really don't think there's any affectation. It's an honest representation of who they are -- tea-loving bookworms who like gentle pop songs. And they write damn good gentle pop songs, too. Those first three albums (plus, especially, a collection of early EPs) are the foundation of their legacy and enough to rank them among the best indie-pop bands ever.

But I give them just as much credit for their second act/reinvention on "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" and "The Life Pursuit." They managed to add some bounce, some swing, some oomph, not exactly qualities you'd previously associate with the band. Like The Fix said, it's about the songs and when that B&S greatest hits compilation comes out, it'll be tough to whittle it down to two discs.

Allison Stewart: I usually have problems with twee, but I have no beef with Belle & Sebastian: their songs have meat on their bones -- they're not just floaty and cute, although they are that. They're crack songwriters, so it's okay that they sing adorable songs, about things that are adorable. Putting Carey Mulligan and Norah Jones on their new disc may have been pushing the cutesiness factor a little -- were no singing puppies available? -- but as far as I'm concerned, they can get away with it.

By Click Track  | October 14, 2010; 12:50 PM ET
Categories:  Taking sides  | Tags:  Belle & Sebastian  
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