Friday, February 8, 2019

That Voice Again: A Brief Review Of The New Album From Malcolm Middleton (Arab Strap)

I don't know how I didn't know about this album until today. I mean, I keep up with a lot of music, and I've certainly followed Malcolm Middleton's career both with Arab Strap and after (solo, Human Don't Be Angry), but somehow, it was down to my long-time friend Stan -- the same Stan who "coached" me for my recent interview with Lawrence of Felt -- to prod me to seek out this beautiful record.

And while it might be natural to assume that there would be traces of Malcolm's earlier band peeking through these grooves, you'd be wrong. The compositions here on Bananas are bright, nearly-buoyant bits of indie-pop, with the cuts on Bananas uniformly straddling multiple genres with real ease. Opener "Gut Feeling" bounces with the charm of a big tune from the pen of Ray (or Dave) Davies circa 1968, while the wonderfully-titled "Love Is A Momentary Lapse In Self-Loathing" sees Middleton marry a hook that sounds a lot like that of "Oh Yoko" to lyrics that are ripped from the heart. The song is a remarkable bit of business, equal parts confessional rock and big, big Pop. The bold "Buzz Lightyear Helmet" sees Malcolm leap over a few genres, from near-folk-y strum-rock into bits of louder post-punk, while the fantastic "That Voice Again" finds Middleton riding a rhythmic pattern that made me think of New Order while offering up one of this album's best vocal performances, 'natch given the song's title. And while lots of this is upbeat, "Twilight Zone" and "Salamander Grey" are elegant ballads of the sort that Badly Drawn Boy and Ed Harcourt once routinely offered up, and further proof that Middleton can do down-tempo material in a style entirely unlike that used in Arab Strap.

If Malcolm Middleton is a bit more idiosyncratic as an artist and performer than some of those acts mentioned up there, that's fine. I think his material is braver in spots too. There's a tightrope dance happening here on Bananas, and it's one that sees Malcolm Middleton not only balancing his emotions, but also balancing his musical approaches. On the longer songs, more risks are taken, and on the tighter ones, the one-time Arab Strap member skips dangerously close to mainstream indie. And I thought that made up for an awesome album.

A rewarding listen, Bananas by Malcolm Middleton is out now via the link below, on a variety of formats.

More details on Malcolm Middleton via MalcolmMiddleton.com.