Arab Strap

Mad for Sadness

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Arab Strap followed hot on the heels of Elephant Shoe (released domestically just a month before) with the stellar live recording Mad for Sadness. In many ways, the album differs little from their previous studio work. Aidan Moffat still mumbles bitingly frank -- sometimes pathetic, sometimes agonizingly romantic -- sentiments steeped in the dirty sweat of sex and regret and self-loathing. His tart tongue has always gained the most notice on Arab Strap records, and understandably, since the likes of his brutal, lustful honesty have rarely been heard in pop music quarters. The music also betrays the same dozy lope, barely raising above its sloshed, inebriated din. On the other hand, Malcolm Middleton's moody musical constructions -- sometimes punchy, sometimes hallucinatory and somnolent -- positively glisten in the live setting, and serve due notice that the most important trait of the band is its sound. Even at its darkest and most melancholy, and even stripped of words, the music would shimmer with an insistent urgency that is part drone, part ambience. The music produces its own inherent meanings and, taken on its own terms, works sinister and noir-like territory in ways that are occasionally buried under the cognitive weight of the lyrics. Eight of the ten songs on the album derive from their first two recordings. Arab Strap proves themselves capable of flawlessly replicating their spare grooves and slow burn on stage, and that further heightens the immediacy of Mad for Sadness beyond the level attained by their previous efforts. The excellent "Girls of Summer" (from the Girls of Summer U.K.-only EP), with its smoldering electric guitar leads and chaotic shimmer, is the album's high point, and the closing mutant boy-girl duet, "Afterwords" (sounding not unlike an apocalyptic Tricky song) is not far behind. But the music, in general, maintains a wonderful tension so completely that it is the most engulfing album the band has yet made. Each of Arab Strap's albums are worth owning because they are so uniformly compelling, but Mad for Sadness is perhaps the most representative album yet from the band. At the very least, it is not a bad first-purchase sampler for those who want to immerse themselves in the beautiful misery of the band's early days.

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