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coverpic flag Scotland - Luna Kafé - Full Moon 19 - 05/11/98

Arab Strap
Philophobia
Chemikal Underground Records

Second album from the Scottish duo of Aidan Moffat (lyrics and vocals) and Malcolm Middleton (music) and if you liked 1996's debut offering The Week Never Starts Round Here, this is a real treat.

The themes are the same - lo-fi production, introspective arrangements and the most brutally honest lyrics of any band, anywhere. But there are two factors which make this second record so much better than it's predecessor. Firstly, the music is a massive improvement. Apart from The First Big Weekend (of which an instrumental version was used to advertise Guinness last year), the music was so amateur, so lazy even that listening to the record was at times very difficult. That doesn't apply to Philophobia. In fact at times, you perhaps wish it was an instrumental record (a bizarre thing to say about an Arab Strap record when the lyrics are such an important part of the appeal). Minimal use of studio techniques throughout a very acoustic, mellow album. The kind of music you'd expect to hear people play the morning after a big night out, which is why it suits the lyrics so much. Which leads me to the second reason this album is such a step forward. The lyrics are printed! The vocals are delivered in such a strong Falkirk accent and in a casual, soft spoken style that it is often hard to decipher some of the crucial lines. The inclusion of a lyric sheet solves this problem. Thanks boys.

Many find Aidan Moffat's lyrics vulgar and deeply offensive. They are probably right to think so. I'm not sure I can explain why I love the words so much. It's probably the honesty and the humour. The lyric sheet proclaims that "All characters in this book are genuine and any similarities to persons living or dead are entirely intentional".

With this in mind, you wonder how the ex-girlfriends / lovers haven't bludgeoned Moffat to death before now. All details of relationships are revealed here, including those sensitive, highly personal matters which shouldn't be discussed even amongst the closest of friends. Moffat's view on life is very clear. Women screw up his life. He doesn't like his home town, but he does live for the beers. The morning after, he realises the futility of being blind drunk and being an embarrassment, but at the same time knows he'll be back on the drinks the next time someone asks him to go down the pub. Actually he says it a lot better than me:

I hear we had a good time. I hear I was a riot.
I would have liked me a lot last night, I could've put me to shame last night.
I fell out with my lover, I fell out with my friends.
I'm still trying to work out where the weekend ends.
No solid's on Sundays, we can eat in the week.
You said I was fucked - you've got some fucking cheek.

When he talks sex, he really talks sex. In a recent interview, Moffat suggested that virgins shouldn't listen to Arab Strap because it will destroy the illusion that sex is a fantastic treat. If you think that David Gedge or Pulp's Jarvis Cocker are down to earth lyricists, Arab Strap will make you think again. Jarvis, I love your new album but it's not the one that should have been called This Is Hardcore.

Afterwards is best.
You get up to get dressed - I think your pants are by the door.
I think tomorrow we might be sore.

And this morning I was casually trying to sniff my fingers on the way back home.
I could smell you and I felt like a little boy.

The night before the funeral, I got some
- I sneaked a girl up the stairs and past my Mum.
I took her clothes off and I played with her bits and she did the same
but it took ages for me to come.

There are parts of the album which have the potential to offend, largely for extreme language and suggestions of Moffat's intolerant misogyny. But his honesty wins out for me. And despite the albums title (fear of falling in love), there are some beautiful sentiments in there.

After years of exporting largely dull music from the likes of Wet Wet Wet, Texas, Simple Minds and Del Amitri, Scotland is now making music worth listening to. The major players in the alternative scene - Primal Scream and The Jesus And Mary Chain, are making good records again. And, along with Mogwai (My Bloody Valentine's lovechildren) and the Delgado's, Arab Strap continue to make interesting music on Falkirk's Chemikal Underground label.

Copyright © 1998 Craig Scrogie e-mail address

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