on 7 March 2008
Lovely acoustic album. I am totally in love with Middleton (and Moffat and the Arab Strap stuff). He can be both despondent and hopeful and ironic at the same time. It's a difficult effect to achieve, but he does it so well because he is so honest. There's truth in his music.
The highlight of the album is his remarkable cover of Madonna's Stay. I haven't heard her original, but Middleton's version casts it as a sad lament.
on 13 March 2009
In more modern times musicians as well as poets entrench their meanings in elaborate metaphor for myriad reasons: self-preservation, pretension, privacy, a drug-induced askew outlook on the world, or simple inability to construct meaningful sentences. The results are usually, with a few exceptions, thought provoking, open to interpretation, and phonoaesthetically pleasing. Blurt out the first thing that comes into your head and you run the risk of being seen as obvious, passé, and being impaled upon the sharp tongues of critics, as trite, platitudinous, jejune.
Maybe, therefore we should all praise Malcolm Middleton for his candour and straightforward song-writing. It's refreshing to hear a man sing so clearly in his native accent - sounding like Roddy Woomble's speaking voice - utterly free from pretense.
He deals with themes that are readily accessible to the everyman and attempts, in places, to dissect - or at least illuminate - the human condition in the modern world.
These songs are a collection of six he wrote during the sessions for his previous solo outing, A Brighter Beat, plus three covers - ranging from King Creosote to Madonna - that he intended to produce as an acoustic album but got carried away and invited the whole band along. It remains, however, quite a minimal folksy affair.
Possibly then, songs about the frustrations of trying to cook pasta may not sound like the sort poignant sentiments usually expressed in acoustic folk music, but themes such as this, and the dissection of indoor drinking culture mingle unabashed with tales of love lost, self-depreciation, and depression, all presented in a manner fitting of a musical interlude on Balamory or Rosie and Jim, with Malcolm steering the barge and singing his clothy companions a little ditty, on top deck, about drug-induced sleepless nights and the perils of fickle womenfolk.
In all honesty, this kind of frank, no-nonsense, temporal bellyaching is normally restricted to open mic nights down the Nag's Head, where twenty-something, bandana-wearing abominations whining to us about not having a girlfriend vie with 65 year old Buddy Hollys for stage space.
Don't get me wrong, it's not the nonsensical, downer-than-thou miserabilia oft peddled by Coldplay, but nor am I the kinda guy who's averse to a good long sit in a darkened room listening to Radiohead.
It's just that this LP is the musical equivalent of a Ken Loach film compared to a Hollywood blockbuster and an art-house flick: it may be gritty and heartfelt and real, but it doesn't have jaw-dropping production - which is no great loss, admittedly, but - nor does it transport you anywhere.
This may well be largely due to the very nature of the LP, which is described as `using up the leftovers and tying up the loose ends'. This material is the last of Malcolm's backlog - he is already recording his new stuff - and therefore, presumably, his weakest?