This is Arab Strap at breaking point. The sedated gloom that has characterised much of their career, finds itself thoroughly bullet-riddled in the carnage of The Last Romance, Aidan Moffatt's heavily accented vocals spat swiftly through thundering instrumentation. It's feverish, unbalanced, disturbing, and for the most part captivating.
The familiar regrets, introspection, self-loathing and spite all bubble violently to the surface, hurled forth as though from a psychiatrist's couch in a searing moment of horrific epiphany, tempered with kinder words only occasionally. The mood's defined brutally from the first line - "Burn these sheets that we've just fucked in" on 'Stink', the fury carried through in the rattling break-up despair of '(If There's) No Hope For Us'.
The album's artwork is a viciously sarcastic counterpoint to the raging words within; glowing fuschia roses surround sketched lovers' faces, lyrics contained within in patient lined script on thick, glossy paper, burned off the page into our ears by Moffatt's bitter tirade, while Malcolm Middleton's ever-pensive guitar resonates with newfound gall. Even where Moffatt's vocals hover over little more than twinkling acoustic guitar, as with the regret-laden 'Confessions Of A Big Brother', they glint dangerously against sharp-edged lyrics and abrasive enunciation that deliver an elbow to the ribs every thirty seconds.
Yet, bitterness aside, 'There Is No Ending''s glorious, brass-peppered closer is less a dismissal of western civilisation's impending death by misadventure than Moffatt's roundabout, defiant approach to a love song. "Not every romance must descend,", he declares - "I hear we all should live in fear / bullies, burglars, paedophiles, bird flu and passive smoke... / terrorists with home-made poisons, factions everywhere ('THEY'RE COMING!') / They're drinking in the street and they could steal your name and I don't care."
Arab Strap always seem to be there - their records perfect for evenings spent solo, providing thoughtful background texture to tune in, and out of. Take The Last Romance as an triumphant rebirth, or as explosive evidence that Moffatt and Middleton are gutsick of existing in twilight - either way, even a narcoleptic couldn't fall asleep to this record.
7Gen Williams's Score