There's always the chance that long-term Belle and Sebastian fans may have secretly hoped for a return to the stripped-down twee indie of Tigermilk et al; but since the release of 2003's Dear Catastrophe Waitress, it'd be madness not to hope for more of the same. That Trevor Horn-produced album was a revelation; its warm, rich production, wry lyrics and heavenly pop melodies and harmonies were an absolute joy. Here was a band at its peak. That is, until Beck producer Tony Hoffer came along and ripped that notion to shreds. The Life Pursuit picks up where Catastrophe left off and enhances it yet further. Songs like Act of the Apostle, White Collar Boy and To Be Myself Completely sustain the certitude that B&S are storytellers above all else; their lyrically-magnificent songs are novellas in themselves. Stuart Murdoch's voice is as tender as ever (Another Sunny Day in particular) and there's experimentation a-plenty (the slinky-funk-cum-Super Furries-esque Song for Sunshine, the sassy classic 60s pop of The Blues Are Still Blue).There are even sparse guitar/piano ballads to keep the purists happy (Dress Up In You, Act of the Apostle 2). Where they're at their absolute best, however, is on tracks like Funny Little Frog and Sukie In The Graveyard; songs that defy you not to tap your foot whilst giggling at the waggish, yet often bittersweet tales. By doing this they have almost become the mirror image of the Morrissey and Marr partnership, writing uplifting melodies around despondent lyrics - a logic which is substantiated further by the beautiful packaging that adorns the album. Belle and Sebastian have gained everything in The Life Pursuit and compromised nothing; and in the process are making the music of their lives.