16 years after their last album, Arab Strap delves back into the late-night debauchery, sexual honesty and grim humour Aidan Moffet had drawled about since their emergence in the ’90s. Moffet once again lays bare his insecurities and desires with his lyrics clothed in simple drum machines and repetitive folk guitar riffs.
The themes he explores are similar to those he discussed before, but he is more mature. The adolescent despair is replaced with a more mature gloomy resignation. Without nights out to inspire his tales of excess in back alleys, his poetic lyrics are more nostalgic. He’s not longing for bygone days, however, which he makes clear immediately, “I don’t give a f*CK about the past.” He is simply rueful he can’t replace these old memories.
‘The Turning of Our Bones’ opens the album with Arab Strap’s “eternal occupations,” of sex and death. Malcolm Middleton produces his best guitar work of the album here, a murky, menacing guitar that pushes the song onwards. Moffet delivers characteristically disturbing yet inspired lyrics in the spoken word. “Let’s squeeze the maggots from our flesh like tiny poison pustules” is a disgusting but brilliant image. It’s a diverse track with bobbling synths and bongos; however, the drum machine takes away from the momentum with flat textures and ill-timed claps.
‘Another Clockwork Day’ is possibly the best track from the album. Medieval guitars and a melodica set the base for a song about a man’s secret pornographic passion. It’s a depressing story told brilliantly by Moffet. ‘Compersion Pt. 1’ has a more distorted tone with a guitar riff that sounds like something from the early Arctic Monkeys days. Moffet’s voice meanders nicely through the chorus like smoke in motion.
On ‘Bluebird’, Moffet is vulnerable and jealous here as he laments over a lover, but he maintains his crude wit. “The shite hawk is nocturnal; he thrives in the night/Hiding in the bushes as he hawks his shite.” The album ebbs on ‘Kebabylon’ with a weak guitar riff and bland drum machines. However, the horn section after the chorus is intriguing, sounding like it was played down a wet back alley.
Sliding synths spell the start of ‘Tears On Tour,’ an honest exploration of his inability to cry despite being an emotional wreck. The drums here are excellent, like an underwater funeral march. ‘Here Comes Comus!’, a depraved tale of a night with the Greek God of nighttime dalliances, shows Moffet at his lyrical best with a memorable chorus offset by syncopated drums.
‘Fable of the Urban Fox’ has one of Middleton’s best guitar arrangements of the album underneath Moffet’s despairing vocals. ‘I Was Once a Weak Man’ is a highlight of the album with some magnificent bass that vibrates through the entire track, undercut by a simple smooth guitar melody. It’s a song about a man’s countless sexual escapades with some brilliantly witty lyrics from Moffet. The character questions his lifestyle before saying, “Well, Mick Jagger does it, and he’s older than me,” the cycle continues.
‘Sleeper’ features another repetitive folk guitar riff that jangles through the track. The chorus is nice and well delivered hereby Moffet with real emotion. ‘Just Enough’ brings the reunion to a close, made up of a series of musical inhales as Moffet tries to deal with the emotional turmoil felt over a lover that almost was.
Despite some sonic miscues, such as the programmed drums and occasionally tedious guitar, Arab Strap delivers a well-accomplished album that sees Moffet engage with the themes in some of his wittiest lyrics. Despair and debauchery are more mature than before. Moffet sounds more sure of himself as his lyrics roll around his gravelly voice, detailing how lost he is. It’s this paradoxical nature that makes the album worth listening to.