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.
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…..