Arab Strap : The Red Thread

The song remains the same, then, broken and unfixable.

By now, and after all (and everyone) he claims to have been through, you’d imagine Aidan Moffat to be sufficiently well-equipped to deal with the pain of rejection and the fear of failure. Like his apparent dipsomania, though, Falkirk’s favourite bedroom existentialist’s philophobia seems incurable. Yet while his catalogue of sticky carnal errors shows few signs of abating, after three albums and enough soiled Andrex to mummify a litter of Labradors, Moffat is at last resolved to accept his unfortunate lot.

Having extricated themselves from Go! Beat, the foolhardy major label which funded Arab Strap’s most difficult release, ‘Elephant Shoe’, Moffat and his sickly musical foil Malcolm Middleton are now back at their original home, Chemikal Underground. Less a cause for celebration than opportunity for sombre reflection, the pair’s fourth studio album once again renders naval-gazing a fine art as Moffat, very much the Tracy Emin of misanthropic mumbled indie rock, selects prurient lowlights from past awkward encounters and, secretly, wonders if he can still get away with it.

He does, not least because after five years spent meticulously documenting his own top shelf shortcomings, Moffat has acquired a knowledge of female anatomy and emotion that would probably be best used replying to letters on the problem pages of [I]J-17[/I]. That he keeps making the same mistakes with the same people in the same intoxicated situations is, if not yet slightly predictable for him, then it’s a concept that’s wearing a little thin for everyone else. Most people like a drink. No-one likes a drunk. Especially one stuck on repeat.

According to Eastern theology, there is an invisible red thread that links soulmates through time. With Arab Strap, it could be a euphemism for a mild strain of STD, an infection that connects Moffat with all his sexual partners. But ‘The Red Thread’ is a frequently beautiful record, as dark and twisted and funny as anything the band have ever produced. And slowly, after many listens, events fall into focus. Middleton’s funereal accompaniment, spartan and cautious like a smackhead trying to play Van Halen solos while wearing oven gloves (‘The Long Sea’), often pretty and inventive (‘Love Detective’), still sounds unfinished without Moffat’s poetic drawl.

If the subject matter is familiar, it is to Moffat’s credit and skill as a lyricist that he conjures such vital imagery from these crusty memories. “You always jump and quiver when you’re coming in to land, with no runway, no guidance, no nails dug into my hand”, he whispers over the muffled disco of ‘Turbulence’, ever the sympathetic narrator of countless intimate domestic docu-dramas. The song remains the same, then, broken and unfixable. Romance isn’t dead. He just looks that way when he’s pissed.

Piers Martin