Sex. Death. Tears. Love. The march of time and the flight of foxes. What couldn't Arab Strap write a song about? Their seventh studio album, 'As Days Get Dark', retains the mordant wit and scrumptious miserabilism that's kept them the pride of Falkirk. But don't arrive expecting the old comedown ….
"I don’t give a fuck about the past, our glory days gone by," Aidan Moffat pugnaciously declares on The Turning Of Our Bones, the opening track on Arab Strap's comeback album As Days Get Dark. As an opening line it's both impactful and swearily on-brand but also feels apt in the broader context of the new album which sees the reformed duo of Moffat and Malcolm Middleton looking forward and covering new ground, reunited on record for the first time in over 15 years. The pair have remained active in the intervening years both individually and collaboratively (Moffat with Bill Wells and RM Hubbert and Middleton with David Shrigley) but to have them back together feels special, and possibly a little overdue following their brief live reunion in 2016.
Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat will never come up with a more striking opening line than the one that introduced 1998's Philophobia: "It was the biggest cock you've ever seen/But you've no idea where that cock has been." However, the lyric that ushers us into As Days Get Dark comes awfully close: "I don't give a fuck about the past/Or glory days gone by," Moffat seethes in his signature surly monotone. Like the best Arab Strap lyrics, the line is candid, confrontational, and highly amusing all at once. But it's not just funny because it kicks off the Scottish duo's first album in 16 years, a gap that inevitably forces listeners to consider their past and how this record measures up against it.
There was a poetic arc to Arab Strap's initial run from "The First Big Weekend" to The Last Romance—"Ten Years of Tears," as the Scottish duo clocked it. Any creative reunion of Aidan Moffat (vocals, drum machine) and Malcom Middleton (guitar, other instruments) after 15 years would demand weight, and the gravity of the moment was met with "The Turning of Our Bones" when it dropped at the end of last summer. In a storm of delightfully grotesque imagery, Arab Strap were resurrected by a dance of undead love.
"I don't give a fuck about the past, the glory days gone by. " When it comes to Arab Strap, it seems like there's no other reasonable way to start off their comeback album. After a prolonged hiatus, the Scotlanders returned to the studio to create the aptly titled As Days Get Dark; their first LP since 2005's excellent send-off (and equally aptly titled) The Last Romance.
Photo by Kat Gollock "Dig us up and hold us high/
Raise our carcass to the sky." Only a mediocre, or worse, renaissance surpasses the disappointment of a favored act's break up. The dread words "We're getting the band back together" induce trembling anticipation, shudders and shrugs in equal proportion. Fans and critics alike ready their thumbs hoping for the best but oft prepared to bury before praise.
"I don't give a fuck about the past," says Aidan Moffat, not mincing his words as the Falkirk duo's seventh, and first since reuniting, album opens. Arab Strap's identity may be well-established - sweary spoken words, knotty post-rock guitars - but no hints of resting on their laurels hobble their most expansive work yet. While arresting Slint-meets-Underworld opener The Turning Of Our Bones is self-referential, elsewhere the Strap's night-themed songs gaze outwards, taking in oddly touching portraits of habitual onanists (Another Clockwork Day), sax-enhanced road sweeper epics (Kebabylon) and more.