Philophobia, the second studio album by Arab Strap is now 21 years old.
It’s an impressively ambitious and sprawling record, coming in at 66 minutes, It has thirteen songs, all of which could pass as short stories or poems set to music. It’s never a comfortable listen but it always manages to hold your attention throughout. It’s a brutally candid record, with the protagonist in each song seemingly all too often putting his mouth in motion before properly engaging his brain. It does occasionally seem to sail very close to the wind in terms of misogyny but if the songs are given a concentrated listen, and the lyrics are read closely in the wider context, it won’t take long to come to the realisation that in spitting out such venom, our singer is lashing out as a way to excuse or explain his many physical and social inadequacies.
The lyrics throughout are incredible. Most reviews over the years have homed in on the opening five lines, and rightly so:-
It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen
But you’ve no idea where that cock has been
You said you were careful – you never were with me
I heard you did it four times
But johnnies come in packs of three
If there has ever been a more shocking and heart-wrenchingly opening five lines to any album, then please enlighten me. It’s a song that takes your breath away from the offset and has such a powerful lyric that you are understandably distracted from the wonderfully understated guitar work going on in the background before the final emotional punch in the guts over the final minute and as the melancholic cello kicks in.
My own favourite moments come a short time later. The scenario is a lover’s tiff at the end of a night out, probably after both sides have had too much to drink, and most certainly over something completely trivial but right now of such significance that the relationship seems doomed:-
mp3 : Arab Strap – Here We Go
I defy anyone to listen and deny that they’ve never been in a similar situation. It was there and then that I made my mind up that Aidan Moffat was the greatest Scottish lyricist of my generation, a view I have never wavered from these past two decades.
Philophobia also made my mind up that Malcolm Middleton was the most talented Scottish musician and arranger of my generation. It takes a special sort of skill to come up with music to complement perfectly angst, pain and fear without it being maudlin, downbeat or depressing. The guitar parts are perfectly executed but there is also great use made of keyboards, drum machines, strings and the backing/co-vocals from Adele Bethel, especially on the song which paints a much more realistic post-sex picture than lighting up a cigarette and letting out a contended sigh.
mp3 : Arab Strap – Afterwards
I’ve read that some critics don’t like the one-dimensional pace of Philophobia, with the opinion that an upbeat number or two, along the lines of First Big Weekend of The Summer would have livened things up for the better.
As you may have guessed by now, it’s not a view that I subscribe to. Arab Strap would in later years write and record some truly astonishing and memorable albums but nothing ever quite came together as majestically as Philophobia.
The sound of being insecure, nervous, scared, frustrated, flawed, bewildered, confused and far from OK has never been bettered.
PS : The reason I didn’t illustrate the posting with original artwork is that the nudity would have been flagged up by one of social media links for Simply Thrilled and gotten us into trouble!