Saturday, September 4, 2010

Album Review: Arab Strap – The Last Romance

Arab Strap continued their return to form with the Last Romance, which came out in 2005. However it turned out to be their last album. The band continued where they left off with Monday at the Hug and Pint by tightening their sound further, making this album their most concise of all at 10 tracks and only 36 minutes.

It’s straight down to business with Stink, which bursts forward with Malcolm Middleton’s downbeat guitar riff, over Aidan Moffat’s growling tale of a lost weekend. “Burn these sheets that we’ve just…” spits Moffat, singing with more venom than ever. What sets this apart is that the details listed here are not what they got up to but Moffat’s description of the girl he’s with: “it’s your skin and your breath and your sweat and greasy hair” over Middleton’s coruscating guitar. The old romantic’s at it again. The barrage of torrid imagery continues “empty cans and makeshift ashtrays everywhere, strangers waking up in the Monday morning stink.” It makes for a powerful opener, the whole thing is over in less than two and a half minutes!

The pace picks up further with (If There’s) No Hope For Us which barrels along with thumping drums and driving guitars, probably Arab Strap’s fastest song. Moffat dissects a relationship like noone else: “we never used to let just one spare moment go to waste, but now you’re hardly here and when you are you’re bored and chaste.” Later in the track female vocals from Nicola MacLeod provide a counterpoint: “that’s me then, I’m all packed, you know I need some time to think” but Moffat answers “you take what you think you’ll need I think we both might need a drink.”

Don’t Ask Me To Dance is similarly economic, yet it still skips along quickly, over deftly picked guitar and a cutting chorus: “and maybe I’m not very vocal ‘cos I’ve used the words before, and the more they were repeated the more they were ignored.” A whole album of this can be a little heavy, and the more stripped down tracks like Confessions of a Big Brother and Come Round and Love Me provide some light relief (though the former contains the crushing revelation that “sometimes there’s nothing sexier than knowing that you’re doomed”).

It doesn’t all work, the cry in your beer Chat in Amsterdam, Winter 2003 should have stayed in the pub and Speed-Date is a little too similar to No Hope For Us. The music continues to excite later on the album, Dream Sequence features some fine piano playing from Barry Burns of Mogwai, and Middleton plays a lovely fragile guitar part on Fine Tuning.

This grubby (in a good way) thing ends with There Is No Ending, an upbeat, trumpet led track form which there is no coming back for these guys, but a fine album to finish up their career as Arab Strap with. A perfect combination of acerbic lyrics and wonderfully brooding music.