Though musically there’s little similarity, lyrically Arab Strap takes a chapter straight from the book of Morrissey/Marr. Songwriters Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton are not known for their subtle wordsmithing, apparent as they invoke the snide and cutting spirit of Mozzer while slicing and dicing lovers and enemies rather than mincing words. On the band’s latest release and fifth studio album, Monday at the Hug and Pint, the Scottish duo forms that bitterness into a palatable ball of electronic beats and somber folk.
Combining native bagpipes (“Lock Leven”) with limericks about sex and love and fusing a sense of hopeless romanticism with vulgar wit, most of the songs on Hug and Pint are like greeting cards nobody has the courage to write. This is a heavy record, but you may not realize it until the second half of the disc, when the melodies and instruments turn from mid-tempo to downtrodden. All looks promising with the beat-heavy first track, “The Shy Retirer,” but things start looking bleak around track three, “Fucking Little Bastards,” in which the ghost of Ian Curtis is called up to help Arab Strap make what sounds like an unearthed Joy Division song. All is positively lost by the time “Glue” rolls up, with the opening lines, “Sex without love is a good ride worth trying/ But love without sex is second only to dying.”
Though the Strap has previously kept a steady, even and almost deliberate tempo, Monday at the Hug and Pint is uncharacteristically unsteady in its tempo. Seems Moffat and Middleton found room for varying diversions and inspirations on this effort.
Though I wouldn’t recommend this album as an introductory course on Arab Strap — The Red Thread, released in 2001 on Matador, is a better aperitif for the novice — it is a fine example of hardy songwriting and at times beautiful melodies (violins are interspersed throughout the tracks). Just don’t listen to it on a sunny day when all seems good in the world; it’s sure to make you start doubting that sentiment.