The Boy with the Arab Strap was my first foray into Belle & Sebastian. A combination of retro 60's sounding melodies, chord progressions, and sunshine and bubble-gum lyrics with a dash of angst brings together a modern day version of Peter, Paul, and Mary. The first play in my CD player, I wondered what I had wasted my money on. The second play, I started picking out a few songs I really liked, and by listening to them a few more times the album grew on me.
Like Rush's Geddy Lee, Stuart Murdoch's vocals take a few listens to get used to, and like Lee and Rush, many people will never give B&S a chance in spite of Murdoch's voice. It's a shame, since they're missing out on a great band that doesn't get enough credit.
The Boy with the Arab Strap is good, but not perfect. There are a few songs that are very forgettable and lyrically convoluted. Seymour Stein has a catchy hook, but feels like every other pop ballad released in the 60's and 70's. In A Space Boy Dream, Murdoch literally speaks a story, with a fast-paced postlude of jazzy music at the end that really has no listener value to non die-hard fans.
That being said, there are indeed some incredible tunes on this CD. It Could Have Been a Brilliant Career, A Summer Wasting, and Simple Things stand out quite well. But the highlight of the album is Dirty Dream Number Two. Think of The Doors Touch Me combined with Tom Jones' It's Not Unusual and you have Dirty Dream Number Two. It's an example of Belle & Sebastian at their finest.
The Boy with the Arab Strap has found a place on the small pile of CD's atop my CD player, ready to be inserted at any time. When I need a quick pick-me-up or a stress-reliever, it's the first album I play, though never from cover to cover.