A collection of seven EPs that Belle and Sebastian recorded between 1997 and 2001, Push Barman To Open Old Wounds proves that the Glaswegian twee icons did, in fact, dirty their fingers at the school of rock. Frontman Stuart Murdoch's tales of bookish, bicycle-riding misfits might be gospel to his corduroy-clad disciples, but the sweetness is cut with tart details: A cheerful slut contracts an icky infection, a child-bride swigs whiskey and gin, cripples get their crutches kicked out from under them, girls in homemade orthopedic shoes go blind. While Murdoch's fey warble bears more than a passing resemblance to Donovan's, you never heard the Scottish man-child unleash the vitriol quite like his acid-tongued countryman: Check out the way he rips into poseurs on the viciously refined "A Century of Fakers," the nonchalant f-bomb he drops at the end of "Take Your Carriage Clock and Shove It," the scathing summer-of-loveisms in the '60s send-up "Legal Man."
His bandmates balance the cute and the cutting with equal aplomb. Laced with swoony cello and delicate piano, their naive, impossibly pretty chamber-folk arrangements are darkened by oddball flourishes: the driving surf guitar and garage-grimed organ on "Le Pastie de la Bourgeoisie," the mariachi trumpet on "Dog on Wheels," the Vince Guaraldi-meets-the-Zombies groove of "Jonathan David," the blowsy horn section that drives "I Love My Car" out of the parlor and into the whorehouse. Like a dash of vinegar in the treacle, such sour spoonfuls make the sugar go down.