As Days Get Dark by Arab StrapRelease date: March 5, 2021
Label: Rock Action
When reviewing the seventh studio album from Arab Strap, their first since 2005, I feel compelled to be brutally honest with you, as laying things out for all to see is something Aidan Moffatt tends to do. I have several Arab Strap albums lurking away somewhere in my collection, but I cannot name you one of their songs. So why am I even trying to appraise As Days Get Dark, you might be thinking. Well, I guess I knew that somewhere in the midst of time, I had previously enjoyed their music and I wanted to reacquaint myself. Aidan explains that this album is “about hopelessness and darkness…but in a fun way”. He wanted to create new music with cohort Malcolm Middleton, that would enable modern tools and sounds. Paul Savage was again engaged to produce an album that is “definitely Arab Strap, but an older and wiser one, and quite probably a better one”.
‘The Turning of Our Bones’ opens the album with a despondent guitar loop and disco shuffle. Aidan intimates from the start “I don’t give a fuck about the past, our glory days gone by, all I care about right now, is that wee mole inside your thigh”. Welcome to the world of Arab Strap, nothing is taboo and there are no boundaries in terms of where you might be led. Not for the faint hearted. Aidan’s distinct burly deadpan delivery, void of emotion, might not sound very appealing, but his speak-sing style, in that thick Scottish brogue, is as ever, unique and brilliant. Even when Aidan rises to sing some lines there is minimal differentiation between singing and talking. It’s hard not to feel slightly dirty after listening to some Arab Strap songs. As the music swells with luscious synths and strings Aidan becomes full-on voyeur informing his love intention that he saw them “in tesco with your buttons undone”.
‘Another Clockwork Day’ is a tragic story of loss, as the subject of the song is laid bare and exposed, their life ripped apart by the loss of a loved one. Over a heart breaking melodica, specific digital photo references are listed, with graphic description of the content, “IMG-4457 wearing nothing but a new postcode, statuesque on bedspread plinth in reddened room, as family smiles from fresh IKEA frames”. It shows an incredible attention to detail and is true twisted genius.
The jittery guitar and electro beat in ‘Compersion Pt 1’ finds Aidan’s protagonist feeling frisky again, “I have only one friend, she sings the same song as me, down in the dumps she likes it dark, I like her hand on my knee”. Aidan relays raw human emotion in a way that some may struggle to cope with, or enjoy, such is the acquired taste needed for Arab Strap. ‘Bluebird’ is quite a chirpy tune, after the previous, with a delightful little chorus about needing love yet not wanting it. For me “The shitehawk is nocturnal, he thrives in the night, hiding in the bushes as he hawks his shite” surely has to be one of the greatest lyrics to ever grace a song.
When I listen to music my main focus is typically the instrumentation/music, Arab Strap turn that upside down as the main interest for me is the lyrical content. ‘Kebabylon’ however, is the first song on the album to really get excited for a chorus that you may find yourself humming at a later date. Starting out as something I found a little aimless musically, the song bristles in the chorus, though the words may pose a problem if there are children around. Is there something wrong with me to get some perverse satisfaction at the sad list called out in ‘Tears On Tour’ that make Aidan cry? You’ll raise a wee smile surely at the thought of a grown man admitting “I always cry at musicals when love and dreams are sung, I’ve stained many books their stories false and true, I cry at romcoms, dramadies, the news and children’s films, The Muppet Movie, Frozen, Frozen 2”? Over a steady lush backdrop of soothing strings and piano and with a guitar solo Dave Gilmour would ease out, this is an album highlight.
‘Here Comes Comus!’ is a right bouncer with full on 80s snare smash beat and a guitar line that isn’t unlike Bryan Adams ‘Run To You’. Comus is clearly a right charmer too as we’re told “He’s always taking pish but he thinks he’s so profound…he’s got the double horn, even all the lovely ladies all love log”. The second ode to wildlife is ‘Fable of the Urban Fox’ which is literally a song telling a story about wild animals venturing beyond their jurisdiction. Like an 18 rated version of ‘Babe In The City’. Over a throbbing disco groove and soulful strings, sublime lyrics abound like “One night they met a bulldog, he said what you doing here then? They told him of the records of their fallen hunted brethren, they said there is no going home now, the land we love is cruel, the dog said Fuck off back to fox land, these streets are fuckin’ full!” This is what makes Arab Strap so very very special.
‘I Was Once A Weak Man’ is another lascivious tale of a hallion of the highest level who likes to sneak around with seedy intent. You’ll need to hear it for yourself to find out how the song ends with the line “Well Mick Jagger does it, and he’s older than me”. ‘Sleeper’ is a bleak tale of a shadowy train journey that has some lush instrumentation replicating the sounds made by the elected mode of transportation. Album closer ‘Just Enough’ could quite possibly be something Mogwai would use for a soundtrack, with Aidan sounding tender and loving for a change.
So there we have it, as I alluded to in my opening paragraph, I’m not an aficionado of Arab Strap’s back catalogue, far from it. For that I apologise to ardent fans. But I think they are a band that you can actually dip into for the occasional fix of dark story telling that scratches areas of the human mind that some might keep locked away. Aidan Moffatt has a way with words that is utterly unique, essentially poetry, delivered in an imitable style and a gorgeous Scottish dialect. Malcolm Middleton knows how to provide the perfect claustrophobic instrumentation that matches the intimacy of Aidan’s lyrics and in-yer-ear delivery. As Days Get Dark is an album I enjoyed and endured in equal measure and I hope it’s not as long before Arab Strap grace us again with new music.