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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Something deeper than the usual pop music flows through the lyrics of Belle and Sebastian.

(Soundbite of a song, "Little Lou, Ugly Jack, Prophet John")

BELLE And SEBASTIAN (Rock Band): (Singing) What a waste, I could have been your lover. What a waste, I could have been your friend...

INSKEEP: The Scottish rock group has gained a dedicated following, a lot of critical acclaim since the 1990s. Their latest recording is called "Write About Love," which is just what they do in this song.

The narrator is sad. He couldnt get together with a woman, whose part is sung by Nora Jones.

Ms. NORA JONES (Singer-Songwriter, Musician): (Singing) Yeah, you're great. You're just part of this lifetime of dreaming...

INSKEEP: It's a normal pop music theme, artfully done. But much about "Write About Love" seems preoccupied with a different kind of love. Belle and Sebastian's music explores religion, as it has for years.

(Soundbite of song, "If You're Feeling Sinister")

BELLE And SEBASTIAN: (Singing) Hillary went to the Catholic Church because she wanted information. The vicar, or whatever, took her to one side and gave her confirmation...

INSKEEP: This is a Belle and Sebastian song from years ago, with a withering description of the Catholic Church and the vicar, or whatever, whose rituals make no difference at all.

The author of those lyrics is Stuart Murdock, who turns out to be quietly religious himself.

(Soundbite of song, "If You're Feeling Sinister")

BELLE And SEBASTIAN: (Singing) It's how and why and when and where to go, how and why and when and where to follow, how and why and...

INSKEEP: A lot of things going on in that song from 1990s, one of which seems to be - the narrator seems to have a rather scathing attitude toward the organized religion, toward the church.

Mr. STUART MURDOCH (Singer-Songwriter, Belle and Sebastian): Yes, a startling lack of faith. When I wrote that song, I was writing from the perspective of somebody who was trying to work things out. Put it this way, I was like a young, fairly hip, 19 or 20-year-old punk who was knocking about Glasgow. But I went to church.

I didn't see any other hipsters or punks at church, so I was maybe kind of writing about the folks that I knew, and my friends. And perhaps, sort of rightly so, I could see why there might be this wall, this divide between them and the church.

(Soundbite of song, "If You're Feeling Sinister")

BELLE And SEBASTIAN: (Singing) But if you are feeling sinister, go off and see a minister. He'll try in vain to take away the pain of being a hopeless unbeliever. La, la, la, la, la, la, la...

INSKEEP: You have stayed with religious themes, even as your songs have become a little more optimistic over time.

Mr. MURDOCH: I slipped quite easily into it and it's a thing thats never left me. And if you have a thing in your life, which is quiet obviously the biggest thing thats happening, you can't stop thinking about it. And you really shouldnt stop talking about it. Else, you know, we're not in Communist Russia in the '70s, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURDOCH: You know, I want to talk about the things that Im feeling. And if I have a force working inside me and something I think about on an hourly basis, then thats what Im going to write about.

INSKEEP: Well, let's listen to a little bit of a song from your new recording. This is a song called "The Ghost of Rock School."

(Soundbite of song, "The Ghost of Rock School")

BELLE And SEBASTIAN: (Singing) I've seen God in the sun. I've seen God in the street. God before bed and the promise of sleep, God in my dreams and the free ride of grace, but it all disappears and then I wake up...

Mr. MURDOCH: It's always tricky, that line between the sort of pop music and so-called Christian rock, for instance. And I'm not a fan of Christian rock. And...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURDOCH: ...I hope that that song doesn't sound too much like that kind of mawkish Christian rock song.

INSKEEP: You're afraid that you might have crossed a line with that song.

Mr. MURDOCH: Well, Im not afraid. Im not scared of anything. But I think a lot of people automatically, they do turn off. And some people start talking about, like God and religion, especially in a kind of straightforward way. But I think it's maybe a way of turning up the volume on life, rather than just going into church and mumbling in cold buildings, as somebody said once.

(Soundbite of song, "The Ghost of Rock School")

BELLE And SEBASTIAN: (Singing) I've seen God in the sun. I've seen God in the street. God before bed and the promise of sleep, God in my dreams and the free ride of grace, I've seen God shining up from her reflection. I've seen God in the sun. I've seen God...

INSKEEP: Do you edit your lyrics?

Mr. MURDOCH: Oh, no. The good ones just come out and it's very straightforward. And sometimes when you have to struggle a bit harder and edit 10 verses into four, the outcome isn't so satisfying.

INSKEEP: Maybe it's because your idea is too complicated for a song?

Mr. MURDOCH: It's quite possible. Pop music is a rush of feeling and emotion that it's best captured very quickly. And I do suspect that most of the best pop songs were written very quickly, in a sort of rush of emotion.

INSKEEP: Is it getting harder for you as you get little older?

Mr. MURDOCH: Yes, it is. It's getting harder but it's getting different. Im moving on to different things. I'd like to be a writer when I grow up, is what Im saying.

INSKEEP: Have you got a novel in the drawer?

Mr. MURDOCH: No, I dont have a novel in the drawer yet. But I think Ill be able to - I think there's a different kind of music that Ill be able to embrace. And I might actually - I'd love to be able to write church music, to actually, you know, to actually be able to write songs the way the Victorians wrote them - stirring hymns for a Sunday morning.

You know, I sing in the church choir. And Im very fussy about which songs that we sing. And the Victorians had a way with a tune.

INSKEEP: Is there a verse, or a couplet, or a phrase that comes to mind?

Mr. MURDOCH: "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" and mine eyes have seen the glory - whoever wrote that is painting a picture with every line.

(Soundbite of music, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic")

INSKEEP: Although generations of kids have wondered what exactly the grapes of wrath are.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MURDOCH: And what we're singing then doesnt really matter, because, you know, these are some of the greatest lines. And each line will take you in a different direction of wonderment, and perhaps horror and disgust. But still, this is doing something to you that, you know, modern church music isnt doing - and perhaps modern pop music isnt doing.

(Soundbite of song, "Sunday's Pretty Icons")

BELLE And SEBASTIAN: (Singing) You're so far from wanting to talk. You're so far from wanting to sing a song...

INSKEEP: That's Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian. Their latest album is called "Write About Love." It doesnt come out until next week, but you can hear it now, at NPRMusic.org.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

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