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Philophobia is a wonderful, painfully honest record.
Words really can’t do it justice. At least, not mine.
It was the biggest cock you’d ever seen / But you’ve no idea where that cock has been - ‘Packs of Three’
Much is often made of that opening line - probably due to its quotable shock value - but in truth it merely sets the tone for an album that is open hearted, brutally cynical, yet consistently warm and humorous, as demonstrated by the dual full frontal portraits on the (now inner) record sleeve. Much of this album lyrically revolves around Aidan’s sex life - the good and the bad - but it’s the second half of that opening verse that gives a far more accurate portrayal of Moffat’s thought processes: "You said you were careful / You never were with me / I heard you did it four times / But johnnies come in packs of three".
His observations are on another level to those on the debut LP, whilst Middleton’s musical abilities have also developed tenfold. The remarkable thing about both aspects of the band is their sheer simplicity however; Moffat rhymes words that would sound lazily contrived or simplistic in the hands of some, but his moody intone marries perfectly with the minimal chord sequences that underlie the songs. Middleton had now learnt exactly when to let a song breathe and when to let it explode into an almighty cresccndo.
Every track ends up contributing some magical moment to the overall whole. It was ‘Here we go’ that first truly got me into the band. I could redraw the single cover now for you from memory, such was the regularity I put it on. It’s a song that barely goes anywhere, detailing a minor tiff on the way home from a night out; but it feels like a novel, rich in detail. The deep reverberating bassline, the little banal assertions… 12 years on, there still isn’t a piece of music I’d rather listen to, such is its unwitting perfection. ‘Soaps’ (later rerecorded as the more polished ‘(Afternoon) Soaps’) delights with its juxtaposed arguments and sentimentality: "Recently we’ve been somewhat volatile / And last night it starts with that Joan Osbourne song / I hate it anyway, but you made it worse / I know why you laugh but you should know, you were wrong / But oh… when you go".
‘Piglet’ is a perfectly pitched account of a row that ensues when a diary account of the girlfriend having a mystery ‘Paul’ over to stay is discovered. It starts innocently enough, with her denial seeming believable, but soon darkens when we learn they’re now a fully-fledged item. As the tension builds, the instrumentation almost becomes a backing voice, lending its spite to the belittling of all parties involved: "The words that you used to find turn me on just made me laugh / ‘Do you want to suck my cunt?' in real life just sounds… naff? / And when we were with your friends I just as might as well have been no one. / And you can’t get over your dead dog / Well it takes one to know one".
On the other end of the emotional spectrum, ‘New Birds’ deals perfectly with that feeling when your relationship is challenged by the possibility of playing away. Moffat almost whispers as he tells us the sordid proposition, but comes out of it the other side as the music builds and grows lovingly in supportive agreement: "But you have to remember there’s this other kiss / And she’s sitting at home wondering where you are with your dinner / You worked hard on this kiss and you know it inside out / And it’s as much yours as it is hers… And it took months of practise and months of embarrassment / But now you’ve got it perfected".
There are so many other moments like this: Moffat’s unease and distraction at being in a church in ‘The Night Before the Funeral’, shortly before the eagle-eared can make out ‘How Great Thou Art’ fading in; the sound of the rain soundtracking the brevity of the endearing ‘Islands’; the way the tone of voice changes in ‘One Day, After School’ and becomes more simple and innocent to reflect his youthful naivety; the brief injection of Adele’s female viewpoint in ‘Afterwards’; the eerie bass hum that teeters on the uncomfortable throughout ‘My Favourite Muse’, taking the edge off of the warts and all words; the echoing, blissful piano work in ‘I Would’ve Liked Me a Lot Last Night’ and the spine tingling outro of ‘The First Time You’re Unfaithful’.
It’s possibly not a perfect record; maybe it could do with something like ‘Girls of Summer’ in the last third to liven up the pace a touch - though this song is packaged rather wonderfully on the bonus second disc alongside a gig recording, almost the carbon copy of their underrated live record Mad for Sadness - and it might be a track too long. Yet conversely on most days, like when making that long walk back from a miserable day at work, it seems utterly flawless and like a record written exclusively for you.
What is indisputable is that it remains completely original and rewarding 12 years on. Their latter record Monday at the Hug & Pint is possibly a more complete and musically ambitious entity, but by then we almost expected such greatness.
There have only been a handful of records in my life thus far that I’d feel totally comfortable giving a 10/10 mark to. And this is one of them.
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