Monday, February 8, 2010

Album Review: Arab Strap – The Week Never Starts Round Here


Arab Strap’s debut album, released in 1996 was my first introduction to this Scottish band. They were like nothing I ever heard before, a dour Scot (Aidan Moffat) muttering over dark, brooding pop (based around Malcolm Middleton’s guitar). Many of the tracks are similar, with barely intelligible music over moody backing. They tend to write about relationships in a very real, visceral way, pulling few punches with some vulgar lyrics and imagery drawn from the gutter.

This album is quite Smog influenced, with vocals spoken rather than sung for the most part. Instrumentation is for the most part sparse, you can hear the scraping of fingers against guitar strings, and rather than lo-fi, barely ‘fi’ at all! The album artwork is equally ramshackle.

The Clearing features crashing drums and a few killer lines (“the things that used to turn me off, I find endearing”). Much of the album is hilarious, intentionally or otherwise. Case in point, I Work in a Saloon – “pulling s**t pints for s**t wages”. And there are a few segments with singer Moffat quietly singing a cappella, which are borderline dreadful really. He sounds drunk here, and possibly was for many of these tracks. Especially General Plea To A Girlfriend, where he sings loudly over a basic drum beat, lines like “I can’t make boasts about my body, the workmanship is somewhat shoddy” before lapsing into whistling.

The most memorable track here is The First Big Weekend, which does what the title suggests, describing a drunken weekend based around Scotland losing to old enemy England in football. The music reflects the storytelling in the song, as the evening gets livelier, so does the music. The vocals over the album sit somewhere between bitter, cynical and plain old drunk. A prime example of this is penultimate track, Blood. The lyrics are pretty close to the bone, about the horrors of intercourse and infidelity. I won’t repeat the lyrics here, but you get the idea.

This is real Britpop. No pointless posturing, this is music with real heart and balls. It’s music for sitting in a pub on a dark rainy night.