Mad For Sadness

Their reputation precedeth them such that it's safe to say the world has not been losing sleep over the prospect of an [a]Arab Strap[/a] live album....

Mad For Sadness

8 / 10 Their reputation precedeth them such that it's safe to say the world has not been losing sleep over the prospect of an [a]Arab Strap[/a] live album. Yet preconceptions exist to be demolished, and here's limited-edition proof that an evening out with the shame of Falkirk can offer unexpected benefits later on.

To get specific, 'Mad For Sadness' sounds great in the morning, preferably hungover and in the bath. Its manifest merits remain evident in less contemplative circumstances, but taken as the aural equivalent of Resolve this album is quite revelatory.

While their two studio LPs have been fetid, claustrophobic tests of endurance - rewarding sturdy souls with enough belly-laughs, bleeding-bums and broken-hearted wisdom to fuel a lifetime's worth of apocryphal pub stories - this is a crisp, focused wobble through a primarily 'Philophobia'-derived set with drummer Dave Gow and bassist Gary Miller adding crucial propulsive qualities. As their new corporate patrons doubtless hoped, it works as a serviceable [a]Arab Strap[/a] for beginners, but offers aficionados a valuable fresh perspective too.

Live albums don't normally equate with subtlety, so it's clear that this group seek more from the format than mere replication. Hence, 'New Birds' and 'Girls Of Summer' take flight on swathes of viscera, the latter's addled nightclub trek positing the Strap as Joy Division's hi-NRGised progeny, guitarist Malcolm Middleton exulting in the properties of sheer volume. On 'Piglet', Aidan Moffat fiddles with words here, alters his inflection there, while Adele Bethel's sardonic murmurings on 'Toy Fights' and 'Afterwards' make explicit the Strap's debt to the women in their lives.

These are vivid revisions, as if by re-examining the compulsive road-wreck horror of their (hardly) private lives, Aidan and Malcolm can arrive at some form of understanding. You'd like to think so. What the listener derives from their experiences will vary, but far too often [a]Arab Strap[/a] have been sold short as some sort of vicarious freak show. Whereas, if we're honest, there's something of all of us in these messy, painful, funny, bleak but always beautiful songs.

The gig itself, an all-seated affair at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall last September, actually felt a little stilted. 'Mad For Sadness', however, rages. This is both [I]cri de coeur[/I] and SOS, a message in a cheap sherry bottle from Falkirk to the world.

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