Arab Strap then. The story goes that their press people didn’t want them being written about too much, at least not until the summer or something. Not that their wishes seemed to get much notice, since even I, who barely look at the press, could not help but see their ugly mugs everywhere. That and read over and over again about the first line on their second LP ‘Philophobia’. But anyway, here at Tangents we like to do as the nice press people want. Either that or we’re lazy and forgetful… you decide that one. Anyway, it’s finally the summer, and I’m finally getting around to writing about Arab Strap again.
Unless you’re new to the world of Tangents, you’ll know that the sounds of the Arab Strap have been seducing us for over a year, since the release of their ‘The Week Never Starts Around Here’ LP. You’ll know from the 97 review how we swooned to the ‘Girls Of Summer’ EP and how we looked forward to the new LP. Well here’s the come down: we’re disappointed.
‘Philophobia’ could have been a great record instead of just a good one. It’s a record that takes the restrained downbeat edge of the first album and submerges it until it’s waterlogged. It’s more unremittingly bleak than it needs to be, and although the jokes are still there (in places it’s funny as hell), it doesn’t pull out of the dreary darkness enough. It’s quieter than it should be too. That might make you want to pump up the levels and really listen, but it’s the abandonment that I yearn for that is missing. For anyone feeling heartened after the astonishing gospel of ‘Hey! Fever’ it’s a let down, and for anyone who has heard the Radio One live version of ‘My Favourite Muse’ segueing into ‘The Clearing’ it’s enough to make you cry at lost opportunity. The guitar line that soars like Television is lost on record, returned to a damp squib, meandering meaninglessly, and to say this is a shame is to underplay the point rather.
I said, however, that it’s still a good record, and this is true. It’s good in the way that you sometimes need a dark hole to crawl to, to hide out in, to take stock from and thence return. The thing is that I see Arab Strap as being more than capable of taking both the trip to the darkness and then turning it around and inspiring new found faith. Like Tindersticks, who on ‘Curtains’ proved this fact well, Arab Strap have the potential to be multi-faceted despite themselves. There’s more to life than lost loves and wrecked relationships, and although, as Jonathan Richman so aptly says, this is the core of Pop, if he’s not careful, Aidan will end up as laughable as David Gedge. Arab Strap need to regroup, get a grip, and make a record that is as magical as they are obviously capable of.
|More Scots underachieving came with Mogwai’s throwaway Black Sabbath 7" on Fierce Panda, although they have made amends somewhat with the fine remix project for Eye Q records. Rob Lo has already told all about the My Bloody Valentine job on the EP, so I’ll concentrate on the LP, which, as is usual with remix projects, has it’s share of highs and, if not lows exactly, then not quite so highs. Kicking off are Hood who make ‘Like Herod’ into a pulsing landscape. Hood really have come on in ’98, and this track is a great companion to their own Rustic Houses Forlorn Valleys LP. Klute has been a purveyor of solid drum’n’bass for some time, and here does a great breakbeat job with ‘Summer’. Arab Strap do a great ‘gwai on 45’ deal, all simple grooving bass and beats awash with strings, breaths, chimes and understated guitars. 3rd Eye Foundation take the magical ‘a cheery wave from stranded youngsters’ and remove all the simple charm, leaving just backwards tapes and squeels. Less impressive than it should have been. Better by far is Alec Empire’s take on ‘Like Herod’, which is typical Empire, mashing as it does with blasts of breakbeats and explosions of colour over a spacey, monochrome background. Magically deranged. Best of the bunch though is Kid Loco’s mix of ‘Tracey’, eight and a half minutes of sheer bliss, taking in spooky atmospherics and Air like ambience. Take me up, show me the clouds, let me float, and bring me down easy. Crystal clear.|