Sunday, 5 August 2007



I actually received this record as a Christmas present back in 1996. I am pretty sure when my mother was buying it in Ipswich she wasn’t quite aware of what the contents of the package was all about. A few days later I found myself in Covent Garden Rough Trade on our then traditional post-Christmas record shopping trip as “The Clearing” came on the shop stereo and sounded like the hugest song of the moment.

It was actually “The First Big Weekend” that saw Arab Strap arrive on the music scene with a real money shot, a single that gained repeated Radio One airplay back when it mattered and eventually wound up on a Guinness TV advertisement. This song was unique and truly original, nothing sounded like then or since.

This is a perfect album, succinctly and efficiently representing and describing a strand of existence not necessarily focal or vocal in music, media or art. In many forms Aidan and Malcolm were the true anti-heroes of lo-fi, the ones most likely to be the person looking back in the mirror of the listener. This was not a time when life was amazing or people were thriving, when nights out and social experience was necessarily pleasure as the powers that be would have you believe. In a strange way this record sounds nihilistic and damaged but never negative. It’s cold and sardonic but not strictly hostile or aggressive, it doesn’t hate it just doesn’t have any time for you. It’s beaten, tired and struggling to relax. Indeed in songs such as “Gourmet” there is real beauty, albeit fleeting and ultimately unfulfilling.

You could listen to music for a hundred years and fail to find an album more Scottish and representative of the times and existence of being so as the millennium came crashing to an end. Legend has it that Moffat and Middleton bonded over releases on the Drag City label but never were any of the releases from that label ever so explicit and direct.

There is no second guessing with Arab Strap. When in “Driving” they sing about agreeing on the fact that “your sister helped us wank” this is not high end philosophy with any kind of underlying meaning, it’s a kind of crassness for crass sake to display just what is going on in their world and how their upbringing and environment have made them the people and artists that they are now. This was Irvine Welsh without the flab and it should have made them superstars immediately.

The stark minimalism of “I Work In A Saloon” reads like a skinny Scottish version of Saturday Night Sunday Morning ripping into the trivia of a demeaning existence and the mess that comes at the conclusion of a moment born out of boredom and a weird kind of necessity. The accompanying guitar line and repetitive drumbeat make for a perfect layering of such sentiments and the lack of fanfare in such existence. Almost immediately afterwards “Wasting” covers the same territory as if built from being on the opposite side of proceedings although at least this time this song reaches some kind of conclusion at the close of the repetition and the album sinks to a despondent and chemical level.

As the album arrives at “The First Big Weekend” the track serves to pick up proceedings with a euphoric read through of high times built on/from nothing, the kind of times that grab you and sweep you away with the flow. The references within the song are so tangible that the right listener literally pops with enjoyment as a generation and a moment gets concisely described with the most vivid accuracy of the time. The references to The Simpsons and Euro 96 give the song a real date stamped on it (15 June 1996) assisting the listener to look back and recount their own big weekends. As the pace of the song ups, so does the experience and urgency in addition to the basic enjoyment and triumph attached to what we do and will always do. Such upbeat takes on vivid routine are always going to be the things that will get us through.

The calm of the storm arrives in the reflective “Kate Moss” that aches of some kind of resignation that existence is not destined to resemble what we had hoped for us, the kind of world that daytime television tries to shove down our throats while heavily promoting Saturday evening game shows.

As the album draws to a close the subject matter of the songs more and more begin to sound like drunken odes to wasted opportunities with the fairer sex and moments of high emotion now being spat out and pissed upon in a most cold fashion. With hindsight such failure is obvious but at the eye of the storm within these songs everything feels real and permitted, muddled and ridiculous. They ain’t too proud to beg, especially on “Phone Me Tonight” that staunchly assembles the sound of turmoil and loss.

The penultimate song “Blood” is a bitter narrative of being cheated on and contains one of my all time favourite lines from any song in “well he can fucking keep that fickle fucking disco tart”. This may not be the most pleasant or politically correct of lines but it just accurately/basically represents the emotions, sentiments and feelings of a person put in such a position/situation.

The album ends with “Deeper” which is a song that I don’t think Arab Strap ever topped or bettered. Using a unique storytelling method, the lengthy narrative device clearly describes an experience and moment in time with a clarity seldom heard in music anywhere. I hate to use the word “tender” in conjunction with Arab Strap but this is what exudes from the climatic closer as some kind of wish fulfilment occurs in the mind of Moffat that may or may not have transpired in reality. For his sake, you hope it did.

Over the years this album has truly served me well and is always the Arab Strap record I keep coming back to. As things were captured to perfection the minimalism of the piece is so stark and loud in comparison to their records that would follow, the ones with all tricks and dressing up. When the words were like this none of those frills were ever required. I can truly say that this record is unique and there is nothing like it in my collection.

Hey I know that guy.

Thesaurus moment: string.

Arab Strap
Arab Strap interview
Chemikal Underground

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