The future’s bright
The ghost of Arab Strap is less of a problem for Malcolm Middleton, as his solo work is now getting its rightful place in the sun. David Pollock reports
It was a truly miserable day when the mighty Arab Strap called it quits last year but this grey cloud did, in fact, have a silver lining of sorts: it shifted the spotlight onto the solo work of Malcolm Middleton. Never the most talkative of characters on stage, Middleton’s first two albums 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine and Into The Woods hid the usual themes of anger and regret amidst pop melodies the like of which Arab Strap apparently never dreamed.
Middleton’s third record A Brighter Beat gives him a quick return to music, and offers exactly what it says on the tin (kind of). ‘For some reason I thought I was meant to have a few months off after Arab Strap,’ says Middleton, ‘but I’ve not, it’s been straight into this. That last Arab Strap tour was a long one though, which was good, because I think we were a bit sick of it by the time it finished. It was good to get a bit of closure on it, though the last couple of nights were quite emotional.
‘Of course we [Middleton and Aidan Moffat] will still see each other, and we might even record together again. It would be good to record whatever we wanted together, something that doesn’t have the weight of Arab Strap and the style of that band about it. But we’ll give it a year or so at least.’
So now that he’s officially a solo artist, how does Middleton see a future up the front of the stage, rather than as the guitar-playing wingman? ‘I don’t know, it feels quite natural to me’, he says. ‘Aidan and I were both in different bands when we started Arab Strap, and then that was essentially the side project which took off. So I gave a lot of my time to that and didn’t do anything on my own for a while, but when I actually made my first album, the experience gave me the confidence to go on from there. I really enjoyed myself immensely doing Into The Woods, and I think that was something Aidan and I both felt, that we didn’t enjoy the last Arab Strap record so much.’
A Brighter Beat - recorded with fellow Glasgow luminaries Jenny Reeve, Mogwai’s Barry Burns and Belle and Sebastian’s Mick Cooke - is well timed and perfectly pitched as Middleton’s most complete and engaging solo record yet, though there’s surely a little self-deprecation in the fact that he writes, say, a song with a growling, infectious, bouncing rhythm and then calls it ‘We’re All Going To Die’. ‘It’s an extension of the last album,’ he says, ‘it’s got pop hooks and melodies, but the lyrics are quite a dark contrast. There’s a song on there called “Death Loves Depression”, which sums up where I’m coming from. Although I don’t always write about myself in a negative light (laughs). “Fuck It, I Love You”, that’s a good country tune.’
He certainly doesn’t sound depressed, and, while the sentiments might be mostly dark, at least the beat and the future are both bright for Middleton now. Here’s to his enjoying himself immensely for many more solo years to come.
Classic Grand, Glasgow, Sat 24 Mar.