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Album review Scottish albums

Arab Strap

Where do we start with this one… probably the most anticipated comeback album of many recent years…

Hot on the heels of last week’s number one UK chart placing for Mogwai’s new album, some other battle-hardened veterans break cover for some Rock Action album action, after quite a long break.

The duo bade farewell with their final live shows in 2006, but a ‘one-off’ gig to celebrate Nice’n’Sleazy’s 20th birthday gave some hope that the duo just might work together in the future.

And yes, a mere five years later we were treated to the highly enjoyable reunion shows of 2016 (and probably best ever Arab Strap live band work). These led to Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton getting back in the studio at Chem19 with the legendary producer that is Paul Savage to see if the old magic still worked – and deciding that it did.

Recorded largely before lockdown, this album – their first since 2005’s ‘The Last Romance’ – was made by just those three individuals, as was the band’s first, all these years ago…

Obviously Arab Strap have aged, and have got even darker in their concerns… The original formula remains largely the same, some beats, Malcolm on the guitar and Aidan intoning whatever subject matter has percolated to the surface…

After the magnificent opener ‘The Turning Of Our Bones‘ (as with all three singles, previously-reviewed), ‘Another Clockwork Day’ appears to cover the subject of middle-aged men and “stuff” on the internet, seeking more than just a cheap online thrill… The tropes of an illicit encounter are updated for the cyber age, with some lovely horns (missus), exciting but ultimately regretful… The observational lyrics are spot on (or so BM is told!).

Compersion Pt. 1‘ (look it up!) is another middle-aged but worn fantasy while ‘Bluebird’ gives us a classic Strap backbeat and guitar line while the chorus is moving, a slow build as Strap tracks often are – Aiden’s sotto voce narration is better than ever, speaking of lost love, or unattainable love, or something…

‘Kebablyon’ (what a fun title!) follows, and introduces some electric guitar and strings – darker than ever, more tales of secret lives, and a killer chorus, more horn action, like early Roxy Music on tonic wine… As with so many of these songs, the listener is made complicit in the misdemeanours and desperation…

‘Tears On Tour’ has an amazing synth intro and is about grown men crying, for many reasons – it is horrendously moving, one of the best confessional lyrics Aidan has done, whether true to life or not… The guitar again here is just breathtaking, simple but deadly effective…

Here Comes Comus!‘ is another belter, while ‘The Fable of The Urban Fox’ – great synths, soaring strings and talking animals… what is not to like! Unfortunately it does not have a happy ending…

‘I Was Once A Weak Man’ uses strings again in another seedy tale – “sometimes he wonders if he could have been on the telly – he really is that good…” – of a downmarket lothario… who may be is “getting too old for this…” “But Mick Jagger does it…” – (er, guys – that’s Jagger’s lawyer on the phone…)

The penultimate tune, ‘Sleeper’, is the longest on the album, and is a tribute to ye olde Glasgow to London overnight train – is it just pure nostalgia, in this new age…? Could be, it’s certainly very evocative – “Keep on rolling…”

Closer ‘Just Enough’ is sparse and final – and mentions the album’s title phrase “As Days Get Dark” – it may or may not be about the daily grind and routine of a long term relationship, as everybody gets old. The songwriting here is just sublime, placing everyday mundanity alongside searing emotion, in a way that Aidan has always done, but this has to be one of the best yet…

There is not one weak track here. It is an astounding comeback from one of Scotland’s most unlikely and eccentric combos. This may well be their best album and for BM this could be album of the year…