Malcolm Middleton – Into the Woods

I first noticed Malcolm Middleton when I heard Loneliness Shines on 6Music a while back. It was one of those songs I had to hear a few times before managing to get a note of the artist’s name[1]. I looked around for a CD, but didn’t find it :sad:

Then I found this album on Napster :smile: , and downloaded it straight away. I’ve listened to it a few times on the way to and from work on my Zen Micro, and I’m growing to love it. Middleton is half of Scottish band Arab Strap, who I’ve only been vaguely aware of up till now. Thanks to the risk-free, no incremental cost ability to download any unfamiliar album from Napster, I’ve got some of their work to listen to, and I may report on that later. But for now, let’s get onto what I now know is Middleton’s second solo album.

The overall mood (though not the actual sound) reminds me of nothing so much as the Smiths, in the way that dark, almost depressing lyrics are laid over some quite perky tunes, but Middleton isn’t Morrissey. He isn’t Johnny Marr either, but then, who is?[2]

Opening track Break My Heart is irresistible. Like all the songs, it’s sung in an uncompromising Scottish accent[3], and perfectly expresses the idea that creativity and happiness are often incompatible

You’re gonna break my heart I know it
But if you don’t
You’re gonna break my run of unhappiness and destroy my career
I’d rather feel full than sing these shit songs
I’ll sell my guitar and never look back

Then there’s Devastation, another twisted love song, dripping with self-loathing, as if he can’t believe that he could be loved

And you’re the only person that can make me feel alone
Just withdraw your eyes and you’ll hear me start to moan
And how can you like me
With this head and these arms
How can this shallow freak be accused of having charm
The way the earthquakes land when I blow my nose
How long can I be myself before you get up and go

Next up is the single Loneliness Shines, which passes through darkness into a kind of enlightenment

I think I’ve cracked it
We are what we do
We’re made up of actions and there are no rules
But don’t stand on heads to get higher, listen to your angels,
And spread through life like a fire

before ending on the perhaps inevitable sour note

Spill my guts tell you everything
Like how I’ve got it all but appreciate nothing

The album proceeds in a variety of musical styles – from mostly acoustic through synth-pop and more, but the lyrical style is consistent throughout, best summarised by the first lines from A Happy Medium

Woke up again today
Realised I hate myself
My face is a disease

which has the jauntiest tune on the album, of course.

The album is liberally sprinkled with the kind of language that upsets the kind of people who get upset about that kind of thing, which all seems quite appropriate in the context. Of course, he knows exactly what he’s doing, and how people might react. The closing track, A New Heart, opens with these words:

I’ve been asked to write a song without a swear word or a slight
At myself or another, for my mother for my bride

and he just about manages it. Almost.

As you might have gathered, I love this album.

[1] Partly due to me doing other things with the radio in the background, and partly due to DJs being rather poor at actually telling listeners what they’ve just played, mutter
[2] Not even Johnny Marr seems to be Johnny Marr these days
[3] Some furriners might be glad of the lyrics page