By Darran Anderson.
Since the heyday of Motown and Brill Building, the conventional love song has been in terminal decline, ending its days senile, piss-stained and pleasuring itself in that circle of Dante’s Hell known as the Tesco music aisle. Attention must turn leftfield then, to those who address affairs of the heart from a more discerning angle, with a hint of surrealism or debauchery or the gutter. The great love songs of our age have been a diverse fare; Nick Cave bashing a muse’s skull in by a river, Tom Waits singing sea shanties to hookers, Kate Bush hunted by wolves and Leonard Cohen receiving head in the Chelsea hotel. It’s found in the sordid and haunting affairs of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Mark Lanegan and Smog. It can have a backdrop of Stalinism (Bowie’s ‘Heroes’), depression (Tindersticks’ ‘Travelling Light’), narcotics (Spiritualized’s ‘I Think I’m in Love’), the loneliness of telecommunications maintenance workers (Glen Campbell’s ‘Wichita Lineman’), paedophilia (Gainsbourg’s ‘Ballade de Melody Nelson’), sadomasochism (the Velvets’ ‘Venus in Furs’) or even the holocaust (Neutral Milk Hotel’s ‘In an Aeroplane over the Sea’).
There were few finer practitioners of the dark arts of the soul than Falkirk’s finest Arab Strap; named appropriately and romantically enough after a cock ring. And ‘The Shy Retirer’ is arguably their finest moment, a lament and celebration of a fleeting moment when boy meets girl in nightclub, both off their faces on disco biscuits. A doomed moment of letting go and transcending all the shite of the everyday even if it is a temporary or illusionary reprieve, “Another bloated disco, another sniff of romance I’ll forget / we promised to ourselves before we came out we’d do something we regret / these people are your friends / this cunted circus never ends / I won’t remember anything you say.”
In an age of ever-impressive videos by Chris Cunningham, Michel Gondry and co, there’s something refreshing about how simple and shambolic ‘The Shy Retirer’ is. It’s just a man, pissed, stumbling around his flat with all the cabin-fever of the solitary drinker, in that state when the mind turns to stupidity; trying on stuff (Christmas lights in this case), playing games, eating whatever can be found to hand, all played a bit too convincingly by singer Aidan Moffat. Arab Strap were often bracketed as miserabilists and misanthropes (largely by those who ignored the constant humour and the knowing wink in their work – their Best Of was called Ten Years of Tears after all) when instead they were deadbeat romantics, in the best sense; getting out of their minds before the inevitable horror of last orders.
First posted: Friday, August 7th, 2009.