Album Review: Arab Strap – As Days Get Dark

8/10

Arab Strap As Days Get Dark 1

If opening up your records with some good old fashioned swears is what you’re after, then Arab Strap have form, 1998’s Philophobia beginning with the immortal line, ‘It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen’.

But there’s something oddly plangent about the kick-off to The Turning Of Our Bones – the Scottish duo’s first side 1, track 1 in sixteen years – one which jumps in headfirst with singer Aidan Moffat confessing, ‘I don’t give a fuck about the past’.

Certain parts of his and partner Malcolm Middleton’s story are familiar through the history of other reconciled acts; that there was never any thought of a reformation until working together after over a decade of self-imposed drift; that they were unprepared to make artistic compromises, and that, as the line of that previously mentioned track goes, any new work had to be well distanced from what had gone before.

As Days Get Dark begins then not from the point at which the sometimes-misunderstood pair left off with the conclusion of 2005’s The Last Romance, but amongst the remains of a civilization which has got increasingly darker than when they last dissected it.

The Turning Of The Bones though still looks at themes their nineties’ confessionals often returned to: Moffat has described it as fundamentally being about, ‘resurrection and shagging’.

Exhumation isn’t the only taboo sized up in the typically deadpan, least salacious Strap-ish way possible; the gentle, almost delicately strummed guitars of Another Clockwork Day run an eye over some men’s never-ending desire for online porn, while the oddly rockish Compersion, Pt.1 deals with the mental fallout for the participants of thruppling.

As storytellers, Moffatt and Middleton were often feted for their ability to glean droplets of compassion from the lives of outsiders most would dismiss as ruined or desperate, but now that holding up a microscope to hedonism is as simple as filming something grim on a phone, where do they fit?

The answer is nestled amongst our prejudices and paranoia as before, just in places we didn’t know even existed at the time.

Kebabylon takes whispered remorse a step further, a toil of a 3am walk through a city centre in the now Littler Britain, while Bluebird is exhausted with social media; ‘Locked in our loops of half-truths and trifles/And who are you anyway? Who am I anyway?’.

A toxic byproduct of these platforms and their highly addictive qualities is the ease with which they can radicalize those who use them. The consequences of this are laid bare on Fable Of The Urban Fox, a string laden allegory which nails the tawdry process of stigmatization, be it the victims hungry foxes or hungry migrant human beings.

Moffatt has conceded it’s the first almost political tune they’ve written. Combative? Of course, but in a strange way; it’s a measured, dignified response to a frightening phenomenon.

Perhaps dignity isn’t a thing you’d naturally associate with songwriters who’ve reveled in being both voices for and actual examples of ‘the dejected, the deserted and the drunk’, who sidle up alongside them for the journey chronicled on Sleeper that fittingly has no other final destination than unpasteurised destiny itself.

Like a queasy folk tale, the brittle whisper and filigreed guitar vacate for a chorus that’s almost innocent, despite the blur of both consciousness and dreams as alcohol and fear take hold.

Guardians of our morals will often cite street language as proof of a lack of vocabulary but on As Days Get Dark, ignorance is what Arab Strap observe, befriend and then eventually dismantle with a caustic real-life empathy few can match.

Sixteen years without them has been too fucking long.

Andy Peterson
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