The Arab Strap: 'The Week Never Starts Round Here' LP (Chemikal Underground Records CHEM 010)
It's a cinematic record.
Like some warped soundtrack to a post-'Trainspotting' docudrama on Glaswegian Youth Kulture, it's a voyeuristic record, a record of lives that may well be as full of love and squalor as they are full of substance abuse and peculiar relationships. It's a record of the fucked up and the fucked over.
It's a ravishing record.
Musically it's a showcase for minimalist, pared down neo-folk. Post-folk if you must, and there are those who must, I am sure. Everything is kept crisp and downbeat, a lazy shuffle of guitars and stroked drums which occasionally give way to drum machines limited to basic tinny beats. The downbeats work best on tracks like the excellent 'The Clearing' and 'Blood', but perhaps the most immediate moment comes with the insertion of those machine beats into 'The First Big Weekend', in classic timing as the story reaches the point of going to 'The Arches' for a Friday night out. This is a tune that is as perfect a reflection of the spirit of summer loves for it's times as the Undertones' 'Here Comes The Summer' or the Lovin' Spoonful's 'Summer In The City' were for theirs. It's easy to imagine some Warholian figure of today writing in years to come that in their studio, The Arab Strap were playing all summer long whilst the streets outside got dustier and emptier. And always the undisguised Glasgow accents are a central element, reinforcing the narrative quality which is central to the concept of folk music.
It's a funny record.
You laugh in the knowledge that this is not your life. Or at least, if it reflects moments that are recognisable from your life then it does so by exaggerating those moments and transferring the feelings onto a canvas that is more grim in its content. So it's an uneasy humour at times. At others though it's the humour of children, notably in the peculiar low level recordings of what sound like spontaneous improvisations; poem songs recorded on cheap tape recorders, full of that grimy underside of life in the 90s, and funny as fuck. This is kids' stuff; the kids' stuff when you played with tape recorders and made up a load of shit just because you could. Diary entries rhymed on tape.
Most hilarious is the final line of the final epic, 'Deeper'; a cautionary tale of attempted teen seduction by a friends' elder sister. It's moody as hell; a pure VU workout fronted by a mournful sounding kid who resents the attempt to steal away his innocence. In the end he just says No, desperate to retain that endless summer naiveté. Which is as fine a way of describing the entire Arab Strap experience as any.
It's a record you should own.
Alistair Fitchett. Jan 1997.