Album review: Malcolm Middleton - Waxing Gibbous
ONE shouldn't really mourn the passing of favourite bands when a split can often result in the emergence of two sparkling new acts for the price of one. Obviously, it didn't quite work out that way for the Libertines but from the ashes of the Delgados, for example, fine solo albums by both Emma Pollock and Alun Woodward (in his Lord Cut-Glass guise) have risen.
Likewise, Arab Strap. When the Falkirk duo gracefully but slightly grumpily bowed out a couple of years ago, it was almost a given that lyricist Aidan Moffat would still have plenty to say for himself, and he is now well on his way to becoming the Ivor Cutler of his generation. But his former sidekick Malcolm Middleton has also emerged as a bittersweet songsmith of cult repute over the course of four – now five – solo albums.
There was even a brush with the mainstream hit parade two years ago when his catchy ditty We're All Going To Die was punted as a contender for the Christmas No 1 slot. Despite eventual odds of 4-1, it failed to unseat The X Factor's Leon Jackson.
Yet, even as he was gamely going along with all the bad Santa photo opportunities, Middleton was already muttering about giving it a rest for a while. Waxing Gibbous is to be his last solo album "for a few years", while he ponders his next move – something instrumental perhaps, or a new band, or a string of idle musical dalliances. Perhaps he could resume his discontinued series of girl band covers, which has so far consisted of Middleton doing a number on singles by Girls Aloud and the Saturdays.
In the meantime, fans will just have to nurse Waxing Gibbous. The album press release takes the form of an eloquently malcontented rant by Middleton, from which I quote: "I didn't really have fun making this album, compared to the Prozac-dulled victory of my first, the shocked glee of my second, the strutting and punching bravado of my third, and the lazy arrogance of my fourth." Tell it to the hand, Malc. All we care about is if we have fun listening to the album. Chances are Waxing Gibbous will at least raise the same wry smile Middleton wears on the sleeve illustration, where he is depicted as the face of the moon.
The album title refers to the lunar phase between a half-moon and a full moon. Maybe Middleton is a glass-half-full-kinda guy after all? He certainly looks at being away on the road from both sides on the pace-setting opening track Red Travellin' Socks. "Take me home," he commands the eponymous hosiery, when he tires of touring and being separated from loved ones. "Take me away," he orders later, when "the walls are shrinking and I think I've got itchy feet and you're needing your space, you're starting to look like you're sick of my face".
It is not the only jaunty yet ambivalent indie pop number about travelling to be found on the album. Shadows and Kiss At The Station both keep up the full-blooded strum and busy rhythm. Appreciating that he cannot make the most of the melodic hooklines with his monotone delivery, Middleton has roped in a supporting chorus of chums. The whole album is leavened – almost defined even – by the vocal contributions of various Fence Collectees and former Arab Strap member Jenny Reeve.
On the mellower side, Carry Me is a sensitively wrought cry for help, blessed with a twinkling arrangement, featherlight backing vocals and mournful cello, on which Middleton demonstrates his facility for hangdog humour with a couple of spoken word verses on the eventual torpedoing of fanciful childhood dreams and missed opportunities: "What a letdown – I was convinced I'd be living in hotels and breaking into houses by now."
Instead, Middleton finds himself taking a phlegmatic approach to ending it all on the dark electro swirl of Box & Knife, and delivering ambient analogue soundscapes, an epic chorus of voices bursting forth to terrace prog rock effect and a straight-talking note to self on Stop Doing Be Good: "Stop doing things you shouldn't be doing, start doing things that you should, we've all got opposable thumbs, so why are we in such a bad mood?"
However, just as he seems to be investigating new horizons, he falls back into the usual self-loathing and recrimination on Don't Want To Sleep Tonight, which is somewhat mitigated by King Creosote's instantly recognisable plaintive quaver.
Ballad Of F**k All, meanwhile, is surely the song title Middleton has been working towards all these years. Having now written the song to go with it, he can rest up and fix on those new horizons.
Michael Franti & Spearhead
The Arches, Glasgow, 30 June
Charismatic, erudite and a skilled communicator – what's not to like about Michael Franti, a man who persists in holding hip-hop to a higher moral standard? He has toured extensively in the Middle East but his latest album, All Rebel Rockers, was recorded in Jamaica with Sly & Robbie.
Tel: 0141-565 1000