Dear Catastrophe Waitress is the sixth studio album by one of my favorite bands — the Scottish indie pop group Belle and Sebastian. As we are at the 20th anniversary this year — it was originally released on October 6, 2003 — I figured it was time to take a look back and run down 5 interesting and/or strange facts about the album.
1. Dear Catastrophe Waitress Was the First Time They Used A Producer From Outside the Band
Prior to Dear Catastrophe Waitress, Belle And Sebastian produced their own albums. With this one, they stepped away from taking on that task, and it showed. At the same time, many noted it odd they chose Trevor Horn (ABC, Yes, Pet Shop Boys, t.A.t.u., and Seal).
“Waitress was a bit of a turning point,” Murdoch says, “because it was the first time we brought in a producer from outside of the band. As soon as you do that, you’re bound to start experimenting a little bit more; you can play around with different ideas, because suddenly you’ve got more free time. You’re not running around worrying about whether a bass part sounds exactly right, or anything like that. You can be more daring, more dexterous.”Belle And Sebastian: As Usual We Haven’t Done Things By The Book [The Line of Best Fit, 2015]
2. “Piazza, New York Catcher” Recounted Rumors and Controversy Surrounding the Major League Baseball Star’s Sexuality
“Piazza, New York Catcher” was written by Murdoch after watching Mike Piazza play for the New York Mets, and the lyrics touch on themes of nostalgia, lost love, budding love, and the passing of time. The memorable lyrics “Piazza, New York catcher, are you straight or are you gay?” reference the 2002 rumors around the star’s sexuality.
Recounting the speculation many years later, Outsports.com wrote: “In the June/July 2002 issue of Details magazine, then-New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine said he believed baseball was ready for an openly gay player. The New York Post, as they so often do, ran with it and wondered aloud if Valentine’s remarks were preparing everyone for one of his own players to come out… Amidst swirling rumors that the gay player is him, the next day New York Met catcher Mike Piazza held a press conference to declare, “I’m not gay. I’m heterosexual.” And in doing so made many think he is in fact gay.”Celebrating LGBTQ Sports History: Mike Piazza… [OutSports.com, 2020]
While they note his response was actually quite respectful, at the time it did spark some backlash amongst the gay community
In fact, the song is about Murdoch romancing his future wife in San Francisco — the couple attended a game there, where the Giants played the Mets.
Later, for Rolling Stone, Murdoch said:
“I was almost instantly drawn to Piazza. That’s the thing about him; he was a talisman wherever he went. He was the kind of player people tended to follow, and we thought he was a good guy.”Belle and Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch on Mike Piazza, his favorite Hall of Famer [Rolling Stone, 2016]
It’s also not the only time Belle And Sebastian have sung about sports. In fact, on their 2023 LP, Late Developers, Murdoch sings “I wish I could be content with the football scores” during the chorus of “When We Were Very Young.”
3. The Cover for the “Step Into My Office, Baby” Single Featured Roxanne Clifford of Veronica Falls
The first single off Dear Catastrophe Waitress was for the LP’s opening track “Step Into My Office, Baby.” It featured Bobby Kildea (from Belle And Sebastian), Hannah Robinson, and Roxanne Clifford. Six years later, Clifford would help front Veronica Falls.
The song would reach #32 on the UK Singles Charts, #2 on the UK Indie Singles And Albums Charts. It was also shortlisted for an Ivan Novello Award for Best Song.
4. “If You Find Yourself Caught In Love” is One of Many Belle And Sebastian Songs that References Religion
The lyrics read: “If you find yourself caught in love, say a payer to the man above.”
In fact, until 2003, Murdoch lived for a number of years above a church hall and worked as its caretaker. You can hear religious references as early as Tigermilk, through The Life Pursuit (see: “Act of the Apostle” 1 and 2), and well beyond.
In an article for the Guardian, Murdoch stated:
“I had this time when I found myself singing all these old hymns in my kitchen and I couldn’t work out why I was doing it. Then one Sunday morning I got up, looked at my watch, and thought, ‘I wonder if I could make it to a church service?’ It was so welcoming. It just felt like you were coming home. Twelve years later, I’ve never left.”Raising Their Game [The Guardian, 2004]
5. Critics Hailed the Album as the Band’s “Return”
Scour the web for reviews and commentary on Dear Catastrophe Waitress, and you’ll find a lot of people talking about how the album was a bit of a return-to-form for Belle and Sebastian.
Pitchfork emphasized this in their review of Dear Catastrophe Waitress.
“What went wrong is typically chalked up to a split in songwriting duties, a practice that made their third and fourth albums, The Boy With the Arab Strap and Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, disjointed, frustrating listens.”Dear Catastrophe Waitress [Pitchfork, 2003]
I don’t quite agree with them about The Boy with the Arab Strap, but Fold Your Hands did seem a bit disjointed and Storytellers was, well, not really much of an album.
The Guardian also calls out the “Return,” stating:
“Their first two albums were exquisitely moving and eloquent, their next two declined into a babble of competing musical voices that sounded as if they belonged on different records.”Belle and Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress [The Guardian, 2003]
Both go on to praise the album with Pitchfork giving it a 7.5 and The Guardian concluding with a simple, effective, and powerful closing sentence: “An exceedingly welcome return to form.”
I’m slightly embarrassed to say that it took a while for me to come around. Back in 2009 when I did my Retrospective Best of 2003 Countdown, I noted it was among my least favorite records by the band, pushing it almost off the list at #17 of 20.
That sentiment has certainly changed, and when I post 20 Years Later: The Best Albums of 2003 in the next week or so, it’ll be an easy top 5 pick for me.
Dig into my countdown on my YouTube Channel below: