Review Summary: Birth, love and death: the only reasons to get dressed up...
By the time they got around to recording Everything's Getting Older
, both Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat were well-established figures within Scotland's music scene. A jazz composer of considerable esteem, multi-instrumentalist Wells built his reputation as serial collaborator, with nary two successive releases coming under the same guise. Moffat, meanwhile came to prominence as one half of notorious gloom mongers Arab Strap; though his subsequent output has encompassed everything from poetry to abstract sampling. They were already acquainted with each other's methods too, with Wells having contributed arrangements to Arab Strap's Monday at the Hug & Pint
- although in Moffat's words it took seven years simply to book a studio once it came to making their own record.
Of course, the consequence of such a lengthy stall was that come 2011 both artists found themselves engulfed by middle age. This is particularly pertinent in the case of Moffat, who for all his musings on sex, substances and boozy antics now set his focus not only on mellowing, but also being a role model for his young family. This shift in identity and all the insecurities which come with it are communicated beautifully on 'Let's Stop Here,' in which the singer tells of a chance reunion with a former crush. Grappling with his deepest impulses, the singer protests; "I am happy, I am spoken for / attached, under the thumb, I've settled down
," all while confessing "you turned up to tempt me / older, wiser, sexier and free
." As curiosity takes hold, he suddenly begins to retreat "I'm not saying that I've changed / I'm not entirely sure I even can / the old me's still inside / same mind, same heart, same soul I'm the same man
In the end it's an opportunity he declines, though in many ways this uncomfortable encounter sets the tone for a record centered firmly around the rocky road towards maturity. It'd be easy to throw around terms such as midlife crisis, but the paradox is that it's the sound of a duo who, at least in musical terms, couldn't be aging more gracefully. Always a supreme lyricist, Moffat's words are arguably the most focused and evocative he's ever penned, with each stirring portrait - be it sung or spoken word - tying into the LP's weary titular theme. Wells, meanwhile, is the quiet master in the background, and it's his arrangements which lend these songs their salient sense of diversity.
At times, this can even manifest in bouts of playfulness. On 'Dinner Time,' for instance, minimal piano, tense cymbals and creepy field noises are set to Moffat's hushed tones, as he tells of an uninvited visit to a former residence. Taken together, their respective roles infuse a somewhat innocuous event with a riveting, almost Hitchcock-like strain of unease, so much so that come the lighthearted release it's difficult not to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it all. On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, 'Glasgow Jubilee' uses quirky programmed beats as a platform for Moffat to let himself loose. A quintessential arc of filth, the singer's attention turns to the throwaway thrills of promiscuity and one-night stands, though these rhythmic tales of "pumping in the carpark," "fu
cking during lunch" and "grunting and thrusting between thighs" are each justified by the all-important bookend; "we could all be dead tomorrow
They're both sensational cuts, however, the true essence of Everything's Getting Older
comes when Moffat enters reflective mode, on a pair of songs which in their own right rank as mini-masterpieces. A monument of naked, numbing beauty, 'The Copper Top' bases itself in the aftermath of a cremation, and finds the lyricist drowning his sorrows and pondering his own mortality. Against Wells' mournful cello and stark piano palette, the hopeless sentiment culminates in him likening his own existence to that of the pub's decrepit roof - a brilliant copper top that's oxidised over the years, and now is a dull pastel grey. It's a metaphor steeped in such vivid, high definition imagery that one need not resonate to feel his devastation; nor the resignation as he sighs the immortal line; "birth, love and death: the only reasons to get dressed up
Those cornerstones likewise form the basis of penultimate track 'The Greatest Story Ever Told;' though it's the central of the three which proves the pivot in its widescreen outlook. Forsaking the stresses of life, Moffat instead takes time to explore its miraculous beauty together with the joys it brings, all while acknowledging their utter irrelevance in a wider context. The antidote to any middle age slumber, its make-the-most message is practically identical to that of 'Glasgow Jubilee,' its tone of genuine warmth and heartfelt reassurance could not be further removed. Indeed, it seems only appropriate to sign off with the song's closing couplet, which provides this wondrous record with perhaps its single most poignant moment:
And plenty of people will try to tell you where we came from,
But we can only ever know what we can see,
So tonight, look up to the sky,
There's at least a hundred billion galaxies with a hundred billion stars,
And every single one could be a sun just like ours.
You see, we're all just links in a chain,
And all life is finite,
So use your time wisely; look after your teeth, and try not to hurt anyone,
And remember: we invented love,
And that's the greatest story ever told...