It was last November when Malcolm Middleton released Bananas, his tenth solo album if you include the efforts issued under the guise of Human Don’t Be Angry and his collaboration with the artist David Shrigley. It’s a highly significant release, being the first in nine years that he’s focussed on having his guitars at the forefront of new material as well as being his first venture back into the studio following the triumphant and acclaimed live reunion of Arab Strap.
It was perfectly understandable, after some 15 years of ploughing the indie-guitar furrow, that Malcolm would get tired of the same old scene and to seek to make a different sort of music. The debut effort under Human Don’t Be Angry was a fantastic piece of work, showing just how many dimensions there were to his talents. The albums since haven’t quite hit those heights in terms of overall quality, but they all had their fair share of minutes to make them worthy purchases. Nevertheless, I always pined for him to return to what I feel he does best and this was thrilled to read in a message sent to those on his mailing list that 2018 was going to be that year.
It is hugely satisfying to report that Bananas is a fine a solo album as he’s ever made, and indeed is as good as any other album that was released in 2018. It contains just the eight tracks, but during a very brief chat at Mono Records on the day it was launched with an acoustic set, Malcolm explained that he wanted it to come initially on vinyl and to have it retain a high standard of sound, and as such there was only enough space for a limited number of songs; and, as if to demonstrate this, the acoustic show (and indeed the full band show a few weeks later) featured written but as yet-unreleased songs of a very high quality.
The album opens up with the very jaunty and seemingly uplifting Gut Feeling, in which he again demonstrates he can be every bit the wordsmith as he is an axeman, with a very honest appraisal of what it’s like to deal with depression and how even making what appears to be the most basis of decisions or choices is riddled with difficulties – “I don’t have a gut feeling, I’ve got loads and loads of wankers inside my head shouting my gut feeling down….all the fucking time”
Every album, going back to 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine in 2002, has contained songs of self-loathing, often delivered with a very large side-order of self-deprecation and sprinkled with humour. Bananas is no different, but this time it does feel as if Malcolm is prepared to be more open about his mental health issues – maybe indeed, the tragic suicide of Scott Hutchison has changed things for ever – and on the second track, “Love Is a Momentary Lapse in Self-Loathing”, he does it all, with the ridiculously catchy and laugh-out-loud chorus sequence of “Fuck off with your happiness”. In doing so, he has provided what is now my favourite of all his solo songs, and if you recall just how much praise I was heaping on the older material in an ICA just last September.
The 1-2 opening punch sets the tone for the rest of the album and while it is a return to guitar-led material, there’s no lack of ambition or depth of sound, none more so than Buzz Lightyear Helmet, an eight-minute opus with nearly as many tempo and mood changes as Bohemian Rhapsody, which Malcolm introduced, with his tongue slightly in cheek, at the all-band show as his effort at composing a rock opera.
‘Man Up Man Down’, with its reliance on electro-pop is a fine reminder of what Malcolm’s been concentrating on these past nine years and, if this was an era when stand-alone singles could be released and make some money, then it would be an obvious candidate.
It is truly wonderful to hear such a ‘comeback’ albeit, our man never really went away. Bananas is now available to buy on CD (a full three months after the vinyl was put into the shops) and of course you can take advantage of a digital download. Simply make your way over to Malcolm’s bandcamp page for details. You won’t regret it.
And that’s where you’ll also find a couple of the songs in demo form, available a free downloads, under the guise of Unripe Bananas:-