Sunday, June 27, 2010

Album Review: Arab Strap – Elephant Shoe


Falkirk’s finest lightened up a bit on 1999’s Elephant Shoe, though what this really meant was replacing their customary bitterness with a stoic acceptance of ‘domesticity’. This album is unfairly criticised for being too commercial, perhaps a legacy of their move from indie label Chemikal Underground to Go! Discs. I have no idea where this idea came from as the lyrics deal with their usual preoccupations of drinking and relationships, though maybe it’s a little subtler (ie. cleaner) than previous albums.

Opening track Cherubs starts with a dull, cheesey beat which makes you think you’re listening to 90s Euro-dance hell but it’s merely the backdrop for a sort of comedown anthem, as they say “the walls breathe.” We’re back on more familiar territory with One Four Seven One, featuring some Malcolm Middleton’s quite beautiful guitar and Aidan Moffat’s lyrics leaving little to the imagination.

There is less emphasis on the reassuringly vulgar lyrics on this album, allowing the music more room to inhabit the space and fill the room. There are some lovely touches here and there, a prime example is some incongruous banjo on Pyjamas (key lyric: “do you really need pyjamas in this heat”). Later, Direction of a Strong Man features some suffocating Mogwai-like music, which overshadows the lyrics. Tanned on the other hand is almost like 80s lounge, featuring breezy horns and percussion, dancing dangerously close to Sade territory!

Aries the Ram features some poignant piano at its midpoint, as it delivers the devastating lyrics “I was a virgin, you were on holiday, I’d had 7 glasses when she asked me to stay”. The tension is barely lifted on Pro (Your) Life, as the music is all exposed nerve endings and lyrics dealing with termination. Finally a little sunlight creeps in with Hello Daylight, as the a plaintively plucked guitar starts off the song, Moffat singing (yes, singing!) “I sprained my arm for you”. It must be love.