60 ALBUMS @ 60 : #43


Into The Woods – Malcolm Middleton(2005)

It can’t really be too much of a surprise that there’s more than a fair representation of singers and bands from Scotland appearing in this rundown.  And we haven’t got down to the really obvious ones yet……….

I know Malcolm Middleton isn’t to everyone’s tastes.  I’ve tried, but to almost no avail, many times over the years on TVV to try and persuade you all that he is a first-rate entertainer. An ICA in September 2019 attracted three comments…..while a previous review of Into The Woods in June 2017 was met with near indifference, other than JTFL offering up his view that there were some nice tunes.

Feel free to ignore today and come back tomorrow to #42 in the rundown.  Given I’m expecting little interest, you’ll forgive me if I do a slightly remixed version of what was said in 2017.

“When it was revealed, back in 2002, that the instrumentalist half of Arab Strap was going down the solo record route, I’m sure I wasn’t alone in dreading the outcome.

The band’s LPs hadn’t ever really given any indication that the guitarist was a frustrated frontman, and my initial thoughts that this was his record label Chemikal Underground just saying yes to a vanity project. I’ve rarely been so wrong in my entire life, as a run of consistently entertaining solo records has established Malcolm Middleton as one of the most talented singer-songwriters Scotland has ever produced.

His debut, the bizarrely titled 5:14 Fluxotine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine, is a heartbreaking but engrossing listen filled with songs dealing largely with depression and self-pity from the failure of a relationship, with a distinctly Scottish vocal that at times seemed fragile and uncertain which left most listeners feeling that Malky really wasn’t the most comfortable or confident of solo performers. So what followed three years later was confounding and brilliant in equal measures.

Into The Woods was a complete revelation, filled with the most part with incredibly upbeat and joyous tunes bordering on anthemic. And if you don’t want to sing along to the radio-friendly catchy choruses, then you’ll surely be tempted out of your seat at the indie-disco to shake your stuff.

But then when you listen closely to the words, you’ll spot that Malky’s take on life hasn’t changed all that much from 5:14 over the intervening three years – he’s still racked with insecurities and  self-doubt, and he’s worried beyond belief. Even when something good comes into his life, all he can think about is how inevitably it will all go wrong at some point in the near future…arguably the living embodiment of a Morrissey lyric…..

Opening track Break My Heart sets the tone for much of what follows.

Malky has again fallen in love and this is a good thing.

Or is it?

After all, it’s only a matter of time before the relationship ends and he’ll be in pieces. But then again….if he does get his heart broken, he can go back to writing his shit songs (his own description of his output!!) and he’ll be a decent musician.

It’s almost as if he can only perform if he’s the tortured artist with happiness being an impediment to success. Funny thing is…..I know someone who I think is a very talented writer, but they tell me they can’t really do so unless their life is in a state of flux and turmoil so Malky’s outlook isn’t unique.

mp3: Malcolm Middleton – Break My Heart

Lyrically, a number of the songs wouldn’t have been out of place on his debut LP but musically they are head and shoulders above it, fully fleshed out with keys and strings and a crisp, clean hugely confident production, which is no real surprise given that it was produced and engineered by Paul Savage.

This was an LP I took an instant liking to in 2005. It was also an LP that  just got better and better with each listen, musically and lyrically. All these years later and I still find it a great listen from start to end across all 12 tracks and have never tired of it. And don’t think I ever will.


6 thoughts on “60 ALBUMS @ 60 : #43

  1. I’m so glad you shared this as having only got into Arab Strap recently I had no idea of the Malcolm’s back catalogue so thanks for that!

  2. A very timely reminder with Lichen Slow touring their latest (hugely middle of the road) album, that MM is one of Scotland’s leading contemporary songwriters. You have featured an excellent example of just how good he can be 👏

  3. A timely reminder, on the back of Lichen Slow’s latest fair-to-tepid new release, that MM is (when on his game) one of Scotland’s leading songwriters. Hopefully , a week tonight he will showcase some of his incredible back catalogue (as per your excellent example) when he stops by Glasgow’s Great Western Road.

  4. I like Break My Heart, too. Even though I can’t hear any bass. Sounds like a cello handling the low end line. I’ll be humming this one all day.

  5. An excellent record – though the next one, A Brighter Beat, is probably my personal favourite

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