16 March 2009

Arab Strap

The Last Romance
Chemikal Underground, 2005

"If you can love my growing gut, my rotting teeth and greying hair/ Then I can guarantee I'll do the same as long as you can bear."

Perhaps, on first glance, they're not the most romantic lyrics in the world – but it's all about context. Arab Strap are quite notoriously unromantic. Their songs are filled with late-night ramblings, alcoholic odes, stories of bad sex, break-ups and being burdened with regret the morning after. Playing one of their records is like listening in on a conversation at some dank and miserable pub – but you wouldn't want to get caught eavesdropping. "If I saw another man touch you, I'd break his fucking wrist," hisses Aidan Moffat on one track.

Moffat and Malcolm Middleton formed Arab Strap in 1995 and released six albums with names like The Week Never Starts Round Here and Monday At The Hug And Pint over a decade before calling it a day. They collaborated with musicians including Stuart Murdoch of Belle & Sebastian, Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes and Barry Burns from Mogwai. The duo were adored not least for their talent with lyrics – carefully literate but delivered in a deceptively shambolic drawl, like accidentally honest drunks wrapping personal flaws around four-syllable words and rhymes.

The Last Romance saw the pair exploring the highs and lows of their usual terrain. The excruciating 'Chat in Amsterdam, Winter 2003' details the lowest of "last night" lows, a spoken-word piece in which the terrible anxiety of a hangover is just a temporary break from misery. In 'Speed Date' and 'Dream Sequence', tattooed bikers use euphemisms for polygamy, one-night stands use half-hearted erections at their own discretion the morning after and eventually, maybe, it's possible, right?.. someone will fall in love.

But the most notable track is the last, 'There Is No Ending', on which the band combine their usual grotesque realism with a distinctly upbeat message: “Not every lover’s pact decays, not every sad mistake replays… I'm a huffy prick the best of times, I love to sulk and shout and squeal/ But please don't doubt the way I feel." And what inspired this brief moment of optimism? Well... "Everybody likes a happy ending," Moffat said a few months later, when announcing that the album was their last.

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