Romance according to the boys in Arab Strap

by Beacon Staff • April 12, 2006

As if the group's suggestive name weren't enough (a polite term for a male sex toy involving a metal ring and leather straps), the opening verse of "Stink," the first track on the band's latest album The Last Romance, sets the course for the rest of the disc: "Burn these sheets that we've just f***ed in / My weekend, weekend, I've been sucked in / Just one more time and then you'll get tucked in / I think you may still be my best.,Arab Strap knows how to grab your attention and make you feel uncomfortable.

As if the group's suggestive name weren't enough (a polite term for a male sex toy involving a metal ring and leather straps), the opening verse of "Stink," the first track on the band's latest album The Last Romance, sets the course for the rest of the disc: "Burn these sheets that we've just f***ed in / My weekend, weekend, I've been sucked in / Just one more time and then you'll get tucked in / I think you may still be my best."

For those familiar with the Arab Strap catalog, the subject material is par for the course; the Scottish duo, comprised of singer Aidan Moffat and the multiple-instrument-playing Malcolm Middleton, have spent the last decade creating downtrodden pop about the dark side of love (the best way to describe the band thematically without using the dreaded "E" word).

The Last Romance, however, is not all self-pity and tears; instead, it follows the parabola of relationships from one-night-stands and bitter break-ups to the excitement of first dates and kisses to eventual eternity together.

Most of the CD treads the same ground that Arab Strap has covered before: lilting guitar parts offset by Moffat's plaintive pleas fueled by drinking and depression, easily evident in tracks like "If There's No Hope For Us" and "Don't Ask to Dance."

The curtain starts to rise toward the finale on "Speed-date" and "Fine Tuning," where Moffat sings about procreation and marriage over a lone acoustic guitar: "After the flirting and after the swooning / With nerves put to bed, it's all just fine tuning / And we'll never get bored with our routine and pattern / When I'm your house husband and you are my slattern."

The Last Romance ends, however, on a bright note with the upbeat march "There Is No Ending," a sweet song about accepting and loving a soulmate's eccentricities and flaws, and the natural ebb and flow of any relationship.

There are two bonus tracks after "Ending" on the CD, "El Paso Song" and "Go Back to the Sea;" however, the band instructs in the booklet that these songs are not to be listened to as part of The Last Romance.

Although the band mostly sticks to simple guitar pop, the more adventurous tracks on the album are easily the least listenable. The half spoken word, half-warbled "Chat In Amsterdam, Winter 2003" is set to the grating wheeze of an accordion that drowns out the vocals.

Many of The Last Romance's tracks are brought out in Arab Strap's intimate live show, which the band brought to a devoted crowd at Great Scott last Thursday.

Wedged in between the songs were some unintelligible banter (courtesy of Moffat's thick Scottish accent) and a glimpse at some humor, with the band performing a short rendition of Mr. Big's hit "To Be With You."

Although it's unlikely that the group's next project will be a compilation of '90s power ballads, it's refreshing to see the band lightening up a bit and finally looking on the brighter side of life

Hopefully, this CD won't be the last of romance from Arab Strap.,Bryan O'Toole