Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Album Review: Arab Strap – Monday at the Hug and Pint

Possibly the quintessential Arab Strap album title. 2003’s Monday at the Hug and Pint. After the somewhat hard-to-get-into Red Thread album, my expectations weren’t high for this. However any thoughts of self-parody were dismissed by the sprightly opener The Shy Retirer, which zips along in a way unheard before on any other Arab Strap album with some wonderful synth-based instrumentation by Malcolm Middleton, while Aidan Moffat spits the lyrics out. It’s a most unusual combination of instruments, an almost disco beat pulsing though gentle guitar flourishes and synthesised strings and horns. It’s as close as they get to a “choone” type anthem.

Meanwhile, at the Bar, a Drunkard Muses is the second track. If the album is the quintessential Arab Strap album title then this track sums up what Arab Strap do in its title. It’s a quieter track with mainly acoustic guitar which builds like a Red House Painters song to an imagined climax which never arrives. The music is quite pretty, with some gentle backing vocals, and Moffat singing very sweetly indeed.

This atmosphere is smashed to bits with one of the heaviest tracks Arab Strap have ever recorded. Entitled Fucking Little Bastards, of all things, it starts with a pounding drum pattern and Middleton’s distorted, almost shoegazy heavy guitar, and Moffat on fine, bitter form singing about how “I don’t like the words that the birds are singing. I hate their ugly voices and the messages they’re bringing.” The song climaxes with some fiddle, of all things in the middle, all the while the sledgehammer guitar and heavy drums rage away. Maybe I should start a campaign to get it in the charts.

Flirt features steel guitar which doesn’t really suit Arab Strap at all, yet the song drives along with quick drums, piano and guitar just about holding the proceedings together. Who Named The Days? is quieter, Moffat singing “I never slam the door these days, then again I’m never here” over muted guitars sounding like a leftover from Elephant Shoe, while after a bagpipe (!) intro, Loch Leven about rain ‘pissing’ down on the aforementioned shore.

Glue features Moffat’s hilarious relationship theory (“Sex without love is a good ride worth trying but love without sex is second only to dying”) over standard issue brooding Arab Strap music. Further on, Serenade features a cheesy beat which luckily doesn’t ruin the music and more of Moffat’s observations: “I only go for girls I’ve got no chance with”, before the folky The Week Never Starts Around Here, which is the drunken singalong of this album.

The album is a definite return to form after the meanderings of previous album The Red Thread, with as strong a set of songs as the band have had since Philophobia.

Ideal circumstances to listen: Something for the weekend?? No I guess it’s the aforementioned Monday night pints in a dingy watering hole.