BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

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:-

mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Gut Feeling (demo)
mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Love Is A Momentary Lapse In Self Loathing (demo)

 

JC

FROM THE ARCHIVES – 23 DECEMBER 2008

GIG REVIEW : MALCOLM MIDDLETON’S ‘BURST NOEL’

FAIRFIELD CLUB, GLASGOW : FRIDAY 19th DECEMBER

Now I could take the really lazy way out and simply direct you to a website where my compadre and boozing partner for the evening (Mike of Manic Pop Thrills) has already penned a glowing review, as well as provide a link to an amazing album of snaps from the event.

But that wouldn’t be the done thing…..

As I mentioned in the preview, it was initially actually a bit of a toss-up between going to the inaugural Burst Noel shindig and making a return visit to see Martin Stephenson for a second successive night. In the end, it was the great line-up, combined with the intrigue of getting along to another different venue in Glasgow, not forgetting the attraction of the celebrity DJ, that led to a night out in the environs of a club that still bears the name of a long-closed shipyard in the Govan area of the city.

And while I know from talking to a friend who had his first ever sighting of Martin at the Accies Club last Friday that I missed out on something pretty special, I am willing to utter the phrase….. je ne regrette nien.

All three support bands on this bill had their moments, although technical difficulties (i.e. a violin that wouldn’t allow itself to be miked up) meant that Strike The Colours had to cut the set to a mere 4 songs. I hadn’t seen The Phantom Band before last week, nor indeed heard any of their stuff, but I reckon there was enough to make me want to find out more about them, and I’ll probably purchase their debut LP when it hits the shops in early 2009.

I was familiar enough with De Rosa in that I’d seen them live on a few occasions and have a copy of the debut LP Mend in my collection. Their set was topped and tailed with familiar songs, but the bulk of it was drawn from as yet unreleased material that was more than satisfactory and which went down well with most of the audience, which I reckon was about 300-strong.

But none of them came remotely close to matching the performance of headliner Malcolm Middleton. This was a gig unlike any other I’ve ever seen from him – for one thing he didn’t automatically close his eyes when he was singing lead vocals – and he was more than happy to trade words with members of the audience.

It was a set list that drew from all four of his solo albums, as well as a couple of new songs. And it confirmed what I’ve always maintained in the face of incredulous non-believers – that Malky makes music you can dance to.

I’ll admit things were probably helped by the fact that I had enjoyed a few vodkas over the previous few hours at incredibly low prices (£1.24 for a generous measure), and that I was in a great mood thanks to the efforts of the support bands and the DJs. But from the moment you walked into the venue and saw the low-stage with minimalist backdrop, as well as the old fashioned disco lights, it was clear that this was a night when fun, fun, fun was the name of the game.

And just as with The Wedding Present the other week, it was a fantastic one-two near the end that proved the personal highlight – in this case We’re All Going To Die and Death Love Depression Love Death which led to a spontaneous bit of pogoing from your scribe (and I can only apologise to anyone who was there and found themselves distressed by the sad efforts of a fat bloke in an old Blur t-shirt thinking he was 20 years younger…).

It was not far short of midnight, and after around an hour on stage that Malky called a halt to proceedings, with a truly wonderful and moving version of Love Comes In Waves that showed off not only his talents as a song-writer and guitarist, but demonstrated that he fronts a band that has got better and better with each passing show.

If I thought that was the end of the joy and festivities, I was well wide of the mark. The dance floor was filled for the next 45 minutes or so with an eclectic mix of songs – I won’t publicly admit to liking all of them, but hell, it was a party and parties are there for dancing……and making a fool of yourself. So a big thumbs up has to go to superstar DJ Aidan Moffat and his wonderful sidekick Noj for the way they kept the entertainment going in between the band performances through a combination of great music, hilarious patter and the way they organised and managed (in the loosest sense of the word) the funniest game of musical chairs you could ever hope to witness.

All this, plus a quick chat (and photo) with the gorgeous Emma Pollock, made it a night to remember.

So……. I do insist that if Malky organises a follow-up in 2009 that every last one of you make your way to Glasgow so that you can be reminded just how much fun a decent Xmas night out really can be….. and if we can turn it into a two-day/night bender involving a gig with The Daintees, then the world will seem a nigh on perfect place.

mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Death Love Depression Death Love
mp3 : Malcolm Middelton – Love Comes In Waves

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #188 : MALCOLM MIDDLETON

Malcolm Middleton, one half of Arab Strap, will release his latest solo album Bananas later this month. It is actually quite incredible to realise that it will be his tenth solo studio album, dating back to the bizarrely named 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine in 2002 and incorporating Music and Words, his largely spoken-word collaboration with the artist David Shrigley in 2014 and the two efforts in 2012 and 2015 under the moniker of Human Don’t Be Angry.

So there’s plenty of material out there for an ICA, and as ever when someone who is a huge fan tries to condense it down to ten songs, there is much anguish as a personal favourite misses the cut. Much of what follows is drawn from the period 2005-2009 when Malcolm was particularly prolific, releasing four genuinely impressive albums back-to-back, all of which contained his trademark guitar playing and were packed with superb lyrics, often very self-deprecating to the extent of being on the verge of despair, but at other times laugh-out-loud funny with the most wonderfully astute observations on life. Oh and the boy also pens a magnificent love song when the mood takes him.

If you’re not familiar with his work, then I hope you find this to be a good place to start and then you’ll go explore further. Trust me on this one, you won’t regret it.

SIDE A

1. Loneliness Shines (from Into The Woods, 2005)

There are days when I think Into The Woods could well be my favourite Scottish album of all time. This is one of many outstanding tracks, racing along at a fair old pace as Malcolm ponders on why things just never seem to ever work out the way he planned. He also namechecks Falkirk High, the main line rail halt of his home town, as his favourite place for the fact that it can offer both an escape and a return to familiar territory….not that he has any intention of doing the former to lead to the latter.

Give me a mile and a destination
My favorite place is Falkirk High Station
Metal rails stretch off towards life
And I’m just waiting

2. Blue Plastic Bags (from Sleight of Heart, 2008)

A 21st century companion to Bedsitter by Soft Cell in which, we are reminded, thanks to everyone being skint, staying in is the new going out….and that singing along with the sad songs isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The whole world’s going home with blue plastic bags
Six bottles of Stella, Jacob’s Creek and twenty fags
And you know there is no shame
Because we’re all doing the same

3. Choir (from Into The Woods, 2005)

One of the saddest and most poignant songs I have in my entire collection.

I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about Malcolm directly having struggles with his mental health, although many of his lyrics do cover feelings of despair and do feel like the work of someone who has personal experience of anxiety attacks, depression and fears of self-harm; perhaps it isn’t him and he is/has been very close to someone in such a situation. This is an astonishingly moving number that was the subject of a reverential cover a couple of years later by King Creosote.

There’s a choir behind me egging me on
Placing their bets and hoping I’ll do no wrong
I’ll do no wrong
There’s a guy inside me biding his time
Standing in line and waiting for me to fall
For me to fall
Self-preservation threatens us all
Health deterioration comes to us all

4. Red Travellin’ Socks (from Waxing Gibbous, 2009)

The ICA has to go immediately upbeat and there’s no better way than this, the lead-off single from album #5. It deals with familiar territory to many singer/songwriters, namely that being out on the road earning an honest crust can be quite lonely and soul-destroying, especially when the one you love cannot be with you. In Malcolm’s case, he gets a daily reminder when he puts on his freshly washed favourite pair of socks:-

I’ve grown to hate you red travellin’ socks
You take me away from the one I love
All you have is distance and time
I’m out of sight but I’m on her mind
Take me home, take me home

But, being Malcolm Middleton, there is a sting in the tale. He’s no sooner back home in the arms of his beloved than he’s concluding that noth he and his beloved are better off when he’s out on the road:-

It’s time to dig out my travellin’ socks
The walls are shrinking and I think that I’ve got
Itchy feet and you’re needing your space
You’re starting to look like you’re sick of my face
Sick of my face, sick of my face

5. Human Don’t Be Angry (from Human Don’t Be Angry, 2012)

Malcolm toured a great deal between 2005 and 2010, during which he also released an excellent double CD of live recordings, Long Dark Night/Live in Zurich, one of which was just him and his acoustic guitar and the other was with the full touring band. He announced towards the end of the Waxing Gibbous tour that he was taking time off to go and do something a bit different, but very few fans expected an album of near instrumental music which highlighted his love of 80s electronica in all its forms. It was a brave move, and for the most part it worked, leading to a nomination for the Scottish Album of the Year, albeit some of the tracks took a bit of getting used to. The album opener, however, remains an imperious piece of music and is a great way to close out your first side of the ICA

SIDE B

1. Break My Heart (from Into The Woods, 2005)

As I said when I previously penned some thoughts on the album, even when something good comes into Malcolm’s life all he can think about I how inevitably it will all go wrong again at some point in the near future. In this instance, he’s fallen in love which is clearly 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 heartbroken then he can get back to writing the songs that make him a decent musician. Only problem is, he likes being in love….

You’re gonna break my heart I know it
But if you don’t
You’re gonna break my run of unhappiness and destroy my career
I’d rather feel full than sing these shit songs
I’ll sell my guitar and never look back

2. Cold Winter (from 5:14 Fluoxytine….2002)

See that opening remark I made about the boy penning a magnificent love song when the mood takes him? Life is so full of regrets…..

Behind everything I do stares the cold truth I don’t have you.
I still love you, I must be the world’s biggest fool.
Everyday I wish you weren’t so braw coz I miss you.
How am I supposed to unmake the world’s biggest mistake

3. A Brighter Beat (from A Brighter Beat, 2007)

“We all get comfort from knowing that other people are uncomfy too. To me, this is a support anthem for people who find it hard leaving the house sometimes or socialising in general. If you’re on your own at home and feeling depressed it’s funny to think there’s millions of other people feeling exactly the same.”

This was Malcolm’s own take on the title track of his third album; the key word here is ‘anthem’ for it’s a joyously, upbeat and happy sounding number underpinned by keyboards and a great contribution on the violin and backing vocals by Jenny Reeve who proved to be an essential mainstay of the touring band for years.

4. Monday Night Nothing (from Into The Woods, 2009)

Another on which Jenny Reeve features prominently, on another self-deprecating song in which Malcolm thinks about all the things that make him miserable before concluding that in fact he’s happy.

But, as there’s always some sort of but in the optimistic songs……

Well, it’s only a matter of time
Before I feel like shit again
I’m a happy army marching to defeat

5. Superhero Songwriters (from A Brighter Beat, 2007)

A near seven-minute epic which closes that particular album and is my choice to see out this ICA. It’s the manifesto of life and work according to Malcolm Bruce Middleton, musician and lyricist extraordinaire.

Superhero songwriters
Fixing to change the world from our rooms
Maybe I should stick to writing wills
‘Cause I’m no good at finding ways
Superhero songwriter
Super-cliché
Chorus finder
I can feel a blue moon coming my way
Any day

More info, including how to buy his solo material, can be found here.

JC

THANKFULLY, MY FEARS WEREN’T REALISED

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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 soon established Malcolm Middleton as one 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, 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 heartbroken 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.

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 fully fleshed out marvellously with keys and strings and a crisp, clean hugely confident production.

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.

mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Break My Heart
mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Devastation
mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Loneliness Shines

That’s the opening three tracks on Into The Woods, and everyone of them a standout in their own different way. It’s a record I hate not listening to or playing all the way through in the correct order so it is tempting to give you all of the other nine songs but I’d rather you went out and bought a copy, preferably from the Chemikal Underground on-line store.

Oh and no matter how many hundreds of time I’ve travelled through Falkirk High Station, I’ve yet to have Loneliness Shines play on the i-pod(s) or i-phone at that identical moment…..

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SINGLE (Part 78)

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The man with the guitar in Arab Strap.

The shy, retiring one.

The one least likely to make it as a solo artist.  A run of critically accliamed LPs would say otherwise.

I’ve all of his singles (bar the hard to find limited edition tour EP of cover songs in which our intrepid hero somehow lost half of the stock thus reducing, at a stroke, the number legitimately for sale to 250).  I’ve plumped for one of his later efforts – it’s a shortened version of one of the tracks from Waxing Gibbous released in 2009 complete with bad rap!

mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Zero (edit)
mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Bad Stuff’s Free

On white vinyl too!

Enjoy