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Review: The Celestial Cafe by Stuart Murdoch

10th February 2011

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The Celestial Café is a compilation of Stuart Murdoch’s haphazard and yet strangely endearing diary entries covering the years 2002-2006. As frontman of the Glaswegian indie-pop band Belle & Sebastian, tales of wild debauchery were expected; or at the very least a whirlwind tale of a celebrity existence. Instead, Murdoch philosophises on the “ecstasy of existence” – an enviable state focusing on Radio 4, physics, Lou Reed’s mullet and Germany’s most catastrophic waitress, to name but some of the jostling thoughts present in this slightly incoherent muddle of wisdom.

Belle & Sebastian are known for their wistful, romanticised lyrics and the profound themes that twine through their albums. Unfortunately, this poeticism does not feature highly amongst CC’s prolific entries, with the mundane more common than the profound. Brief flashes of true philosophical insight are enjoyable, as are fleeting episodes of humour, with Murdoch wryly describing his own life as being “26% rockstar” – a figure that may be challenged by his penchant for soft slippers and love of Scrabble.

Glimpses of his religious convictions are tantalising in their brevity which is a disappointment given that much of his musical work appears driven by these beliefs, and which also fuel much discussion amongst Belle & Sebastian fans. Both political and religious principles are almost adolescent in their stage of development, with much conviction apparent but with little growth of discussion or reasoning. Moments of animation are worth waiting for, however, with passing elements of truly inspirational musings on all aspects of life.

 Murdoch’s struggle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is touched upon throughout the chronicles, and his determined normality despite such a challenging limitation is cheering. As the entries stretch from late 2005 to 2006 and entries become sparser, Murdoch finally seems more comfortable with his role of biographer. Deeper insights into the influences, relationships and fluidity within the band are coupled with recollections that become oddly nostalgic and a little jaded. His passion for his various musical influences is rivalled only by his affection for Glasgow and these themes are strongly present throughout the entirety of the years chronicled.

The Celestial Café provides a quirky and entertaining glimpse of a mysterious world, but the confusion and rather shallow insight into such a plethora of issues may leave you frustrated and wishing for a little more depth. We can always hope Murdoch will offer a better exposition on the next B & S record.

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