ARAB STRAP

 

After a career spanning ten years, Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton have decided to wind up a musical partnership that has rightly earned its place in musical folklore. It’s rare nowadays for a band to stake any sort of legitimate claim on originality; with Arab Strap, it’s a claim to which they can feel richly entitled; over the last decade they have pursued a musical vision so singular in its tone and inventive in its execution that they found themselves in a genre almost entirely of their own. For Chemikal Underground, Arab Strap’s decision to dissolve represents something far more significant than the ending of a band’s career: it’s the end of an era.

 

From auspicious beginnings Aidan and Malcolm went on to produce a flood of material that would articulately dissect and mournfully celebrate the human condition in a style that was as blunt as it was thrilling. Drum machines, squalling guitars, soaring strings and barber shop quartets were called upon to underscore tales of carnal design, chemically enhanced recreation and romantic aspirations (with all the attendant insecurities included) - names were not always changed to protect the innocent, unspeakable thoughts would form the spine of a chorus while vindictive rebukes would often adorn a middle eight.

 

Arab Strap’s journey would see them depart Chemikal Underground after their second album, Philophobia, and join Go! Beat for one studio album (Elephant Shoe) and one live album (Mad For Sadness) before returning to Chemikal for The Red Thread (2001), Monday At The Hug And Pint (2003) and The Last Romance (2005). All these stages are represented on their final collection, 10 Years Of Tears, as the band collate an assortment of rarities, live tracks, demos and b-sides for a final, comprehensive and hugely entertaining epilogue to the bands career.

 

Their later albums displayed an increasingly mature take on the themes that had shaped their earlier sound, the music broader in scope; the narrative depictions of complex liaisons and vice-fuelled weekends (five years before Mike Skinner’s rise to prominence), replaced with compellingly insightful commentaries that could be in turn reflective and vehement, while often being laugh-out-loud funny (despite persistent appraisals of miserablism in the music press). What elevated Arab Strap’s art way beyond the realms of the observational was the way in which Aidan’s lyrics were more than matched by the intelligence of Malcolm’s music. There can be no doubt that Malcolm Middleton has an uncanny grasp of all things melodic (as evidenced on his two solo albums) and it was often Malcolm’s guitars that made Aidan’s fury or disenchantment all the more palpable.

 

As in the best partnerships there existed a constant friction; they were exacting perfectionists and stubbornly demanding in equal measure - meetings with Chemikal Underground were often battlefields of baleful stares, strafed with disagreements and saved by countless agreeable ceasefires. From Malcolm’s drowsy bass notes at the beginning of their debut album’s opener, Coming Down, to the blithe, descending brass scale on The Last Romance’s closer There Is No Ending, Arab Strap have navigated routes few bands would have dared to travel. Their albums were musically compelling and lyrically provocative; wholly unique and courageously honest – that they never broke into the mainstream is both hardly surprising and wholly irrelevant. It’s not really the end of course, it’s important to note that both Aidan and Malcolm will continue to make music with their own individual projects: Malcolm with his burgeoning solo career; Aidan with his L. Pierre incarnation and spoken word projects.

 

CHEMIKAL UNDERGROUND - SEPTEMBER 2006.