Review Summary: Hark, the herald harbingers of gloom
‘Another Clockwork Day’ is a song about wanking, spunked into existence by an argument that Aidan Moffat had on Twitter whereupon a detractor reduced the Arab Strap output to, simply, songs about hand-buggery. They hadn’t actually penned any, not prior to this one, but that sentiment calls attention to the big, veiny barrier to entry that sits hairily between the duo and their queasy naysayers: it’s just too rude. Too vulgar. There’ll be no cock, nor bollocks, in my
music library, thank you very much. But, while you might not be particularly keen to share this with your sweet old gran, these sweary, whistle-stop tours of vice and depravity are much more nuanced (and, actually, revelatory) than you’d think.
There is a grubby spectre that haunts the ageing consciousness: what would the neighbours think? One’s frivolous youth morphs into milquetoast middle age, and the banalities of bills, and routines, fish and chips every Friday, and remembering days gone by from a life that might as well not have been yours. The mind wanders, as it’s wont to, with its collar up and the brim of its hat down, through the dark alleys of hedonism and pleasure-concentrate, sniffing for anything that’ll make life a little less fucking miserable. No-one can know. But we all do it. We all lead two lives – the one we show to people, and the one we don’t. As Days Get Dark taps into that feeling, the fear of being found out, and confronts you with it, tongue firmly in-cheek and hand firmly down-trousers. It’s a filthy, black mirror, and you’ll catch your reflection tomorrow night, too.
And so, in three and a half minutes, ‘Another Clockwork Day’ brilliantly sums up what this return of Arab Strap is all about. The pro-tug-onist is fully aware of his seedy skulking, his poison of choice hidden deep in a hilarious maze of external hard drives, folders and filenames necessary to stifle his lust. Malcolm “the ginger one” Middleton’s guitar sidles as sneaky eyeballs, glancing side to side, smiling wryly in pent-up anticipation. Then it saddens as it laments the tropes of modern pornography (“it's all stepmums and stepsisters now, what the fuck's all that about?”
) before sultry horns announce the successful location of his compact camera’s carnal contents. It’s a deft channeling of the crests and valleys associated with the activity.
The album’s opening line of “I don’t give a fuck about the past
” is an edifying misnomer. In one snarl, it waves away all the notions of this being a quote-unquote “comeback” record, some fifteen years since their last, whilst also setting up its subject of derision: that we fervently give a fuck about everything, we just do it privately. Take the track ‘Bluebird’, fairly innocuous by the Strap standard, channeling the addictive anonymity of Twitter and all of its bile: “The shitehawk is nocturnal, he thrives in the night, hiding in the bushes as he hawks his shite
”. It’s obviously a very of-its-time subject, but Moffat pens his poetry in a way that affords it some timelessness, and that’s separate to the fact that one would be remiss to even approach As Days Get Dark as something that considers itself in any way to be locked into one time. It has
been fifteen years since the last Arab Strap album, yes, but Moffat has decidedly not just been sat at home picking his arse and sniffing his fingers. His two LPs with Bill Wells have wrought some of his best work, both of which are very much concerned with the passing of time, and to retread that ground would feel somewhat derivative even with a different collaborator. He’s a whole other catalogue of experimentations, some that don’t harness his putrid penmanship at all, and it doesn’t do much to help his brand of “depressed bloke who knows spoken word and genitals”.
So you sort of have to do away with that notion. As much as Moffat’s voice has aged wonderfully, oakily, like a barrel of whiskey, there’s no caveat of maturation that normally comes with these sorts of returns. How much could you expect an outfit named after a cock ring to ‘mature’? Granted, you’ve the misguided machismo of Philophobia traded in for an altogether different vulnerability – Moffat hilariously reveals on ‘Tears on Tour’ that “I cry at rom-coms, dramadies, the news and children’s films: The Muppet Movie, Frozen, Frozen 2
” – but the duo haven’t had to shelve a single one of the components that enamoured their fans during their first go around.
It’s the gathered learnings of the pair that is the foam to the carbonated hop-and-barley body of succinct, over-honest one-liners. Contrary to earlier works, Moffat now knows his way around drum machines and computery such-and-suches that didn’t really exist then, and so now he is able to lift his musings to a grander scale that they deserve, as if from public loo cubicle scrawls to heritage-protected street art. And I tell you what, it’s good enough that folks who think Arab Strap just write songs about wanking might be able to have a little peep through the gloryhole. As Days Get Dark at its core is an album for the everyman, shedding a UV light on our gory guises and winking at all your stains. But it really isn’t just all cock and bollocks. It reckons that we love behind closed doors, and we hate behind closed doors. And we shag, we weep, we sin – but it’s only sinful in the sunlight.