Arab Strap

The Last Romance

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The presence of what sounds like energy, streaked across most of The Last Romance, has often been mistaken for happiness, or at least a resigned sense of contentment. A fast tempo and comprehensible lyrics don't necessarily indicate that a band is being upbeat, but in the case of Arab Strap-- a band that has been dealing in bitterness, jealousy, regret, drunkenness, sloppy sex, and all combinations thereof throughout its entire career -- any glint, no matter how slight or fleeting, is bound to be blown out of proportion. When Aidan Moffat sings, "And when I wake up stiff, please just feel free to use me/Then go to work and let me wonder what it was that made you choose me" (aww, what a sweetheart), he might as well be holding a basket of puppies in a field of fragrant flowers. That's about as happy as the album gets. It's also worth noting that the line comes from a song titled "Dream Sequence." That said, "There Is No Ending" is easily the sweetest Arab Strap song yet -- yet it doesn't come until the very end of the album and doesn't fit the character of the preceding nine songs. The puttering drum machine, which suited the band's material as well as early Cocteau Twins and Big Black, but eventually started to sound more like a crutch, is now completely gone. This likely allowed for the faster tempos heard in "Stink," "(If There's) No Hope for Us," and "Speed-Date," all of which are more pointed and dense than Monday at the Hug and Pint's "The Shy Retirer." The way in which the vocals are delivered often exposes the angry-drunk side of Moffat, as opposed to the eloquent-but-about-to-pass-out-drunk side of Moffat; once known for muttering under his breath and little else, he keeps up with the relatively frantic speeds and exposes a seething rage that was only occasionally revealed on the earlier albums. In the minds of some Arab Strap fans, this is a breakthrough; others, sadly, hear a betrayal. [The U.S. version of the album, released by Transdreamer, adds a pair of bonus tracks to what was already a perfectly adequate album.]

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