There’s a proud tradition of confessional miserablism in
British music but, as these reissues of Arab Strap’s first two albums make
abundantly clear, no one did it quite like the now-defunct Scottish duo. Aidan
Moffat’s mumbled warts-and-all chronicles of a birds- and booze-centered life
are forensically observed, rich in wry, embarrassing psychological realism. That
unflinching realism and dark humor are the keys to Arab Strap’s uniqueness.
Artists with an especially strong, idiosyncratic lyrical component sometimes
pay less attention to their music, but Malcolm Middleton’s contributions are
crucial to the equation, fleshing out and amplifying the emotional register of
Moffat’s words and adding to the narrative dynamic.
These are generously endowed reissues, containing
contemporaneous John Peel sessions and live recordings from the time of each
original release: most bands would sooner forget their first public performance
but, typically, Arab Strap isn’t coy, actually including its 1996 debut on the
bonus disc accompanying Week.
Meanwhile, Philophobia comes with a 1998 festival set that finds the duo at the peak of its
powers, convincingly translating its often intimate, introspective sound to a
larger context. Moffat and Middleton were always far more than comedy
miserablists, their downbeat anthems for doomed youth offering an enduring and
refreshingly unsavory antidote to the more glossy, celebratory side of Britpop:
these albums are a testament to that.
First Big Weekend,” “New Birds” WILSON NEATE