Arab Strap - Biography
Arab Strap (from Falkirk, Scotland) aren't always easy to listen to. This has little to do with their music, which is usually pleasing and even occasionally goes unnoticed. But while multi-instrumentalist Malcolm Middleton is obviously very talented (and without him, Arab Strap would consist of spoken words over silence), what makes Arab Strap special — as well as provides their more cringe-inducing moments — are the words and unique delivery of Aidan Moffat. Rarely doing anything that can really be called singing, Moffat mumbles line after debauched line about failures in relationships, sex, drunkenness and combinations of the three; all in a thick Scottish accent that can be absolutely indecipherable at times. His lyrics often offend, but also endear him to the listener, making him seem like that intelligent but constantly wasted friend who could really make something of himself if he would just clean up his act a little bit. In a career that lasted ten years, Arab Strap released six studio albums, using spare production qualities that drew comparisons to the work of Steve Albini. They also drew comparisons to countless other post-folk bands, many of which weren't very accurate. Arab Strap were their own unique entity and although that uniqueness never granted them mainstream success, it was an admirable trait that becomes more and more difficult to come by in music these days.
Middleton and Moffat had been friends for quite a while. After so many exchanged cassettes between each other featuring songs by their respective bands, they decided to try making music together. Arab Strap took their name from a sexual device, perfectly setting the tone for what kind of music they'd make. It sounded pretty enough, but underneath it was perversity and debauchery. They signed to Chemikal Underground, a Glasgow-based label started up by indie rockers The Delgados as a means of releasing their own debut single, “Monica Webster/Brand New Car.” Arab Strap's first single was “The First Big Weekend,” a somber, spoken-word track that earned some wild praise from critics. Britain's Radio One went as far as to call it the best record of the decade. The single was definitely different. Opening with some tentative guitar playing before Moffat abruptly begins his story, the song soon morphs into a dance song although it's hard to picture anyone dancing to it.
A full-length debut was ready by 1996, and the band put out The Week Never Starts Round Here on Chemikal Underground that year. The critical consensus seemed to be that, though the album was worth hearing, the duo failed to deliver a song as good as “The First Big Weekend,” which does appear on the album. In 1997, they released an EP, The Girls of Summer (1997 Chemikal Underground). One year later, the duo found US distribution for new material with Matador. After a remixed version of David Holmes' “Don't Die Just Yet” became a hit, they released their second album, Philophobia (1998-Matador). It grabbed the listener's attention on first song, “Packs of Three,” with the opening line, “It was the biggest cock you'd ever seen.” The album's title refers to a fear of love or intimacy and therefore, it's not difficult to guess what these songs are about. The crude paintings on the cover and within the booklet are by Moffat. They are nude renderings of himself and his then-girlfriend.
After touring with and befriending Belle & Sebastian (Stuart Murdoch appears on Philophobia), Arab Strap had a falling out with them when Murdoch wrote a song called “The Boy with the Arab Strap” and then named the new Belle & Sebastian album after the song. A minor feud erupted, primarily because Moffat and Middleton were opposed to having their name attached to a Belle & Sebastian album. Many fans were confused by the title as well and mistakenly believed that the album was a collaboration between the two groups.
In 2000, the band's third album, Elephant Shoe (Chemikal Underground) was released. Jetset Records picked the band up in the US once they had parted ways with Matador. It is one of the more clever titles in the Arab Strap catalog. If one says the title of the album quickly and quietly, it will look and sound like “I love you” is being said. So, after expressing his fear of love on the previous LP, Moffat is now either too shy to admit he's in love — or he at least wants you to believe that he is. One month after the album made it to the States, Arab Strap released their live album, the highly-praised Mad for Sadness (2000 Jetset).
In 2001, they were back on Matador in the US with The Red Thread (Chemikal Underground). The duo had not made any changes to their sound, necessarily, but they had certainly improved it and The Red Thread earned them mostly stellar reviews. After they'd finished promoting the album, the duo temporarily separated to pursue solo projects. Middleton released 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine in 2002 and Moffat, under the name Lucky Pierre, put out Hypnogogia the same year. They quickly came back together to release Monday at the Hug and Pint (Matador) in 2003, an album that arguably gave the duo the best reviews of their career. The Last Romance (2005 Transdreamer) followed and is appropriately titled, for it would be the final Arab Strap studio album.
By the fall of 2006, the band decided they had taken the group as far as it could go and announced their disbandment. They issued the compilation, Ten Years of Tears (2006 Chemikal Underground), in November. The LP did contain some of their most popular songs, but was mostly a collection of rarities aimed at fans, including their first ever live performance, which occurred on John Peel's BBC show. To coincide with the album's release, Arab Strap took to touring the UK one last time as a means of saying farewell.