The Last Romance (Chemikal Underground, 2005)
Arab Strap’s swansong, apparently dissatisfaction with The Last Romance played some small part in the decision to foreclose on the band. It’s not necessarily clear why, but it does speak to Middleton and Moffat’s perfectionism that they felt they could do better than this pretty nifty set.
Building on the diversity of its predecessor, The Last Romance weds that ambition to a warmth and pacing that gives everything a genuine optimism. “Come Round And Love Me” and “Fine Tuning” belie the band’s reputation as lovelorn doomed romantics, by simply being genuinely romantic tales of love. Likewise, if you’re going to bow out of a career, then “There Is No Ending” is the way to do it. Full brass fanfares, big sentiments, a genuinely great send off.
Instrumentally, there’s no real unifier here, but an awful lot of inventiveness. On “Confessions of a Big Brother”, Moffat and a cello slip-and-slide over each other on the choruses in ways I never tire of hearing. “Chat In Amsterdam, Winter 2003” is also a neat oddity with its double-tracked vocals pushing against one another and against a queasy accordion. The album isn’t short when it comes to full pop moments either with obvious singles “Speed Date” and “Dream Sequence” but also the careering rock of “If There’s No Hope For Us”.
Ten Years of Tears (Chemikal Underground, 2006)
Arab Strap released roughly 100 songs in 11 years, with enough left over for some solid solo records. It’s remarkable that Moffat and Middleton were devoted enough to their art that they still had worthwhile material left over. Ten Years of Tears is a deep and varied haul of rarities blending single tracks, edits, a live song, a remix, the odd demo, and a few newbies.
“Oxytocin” is the first song the duo ever recorded and was rejigged for “Piglet”. It would have sounded at home on either of their first records and comes with a clip of some Falkirk dignitary annoyed at Arab Strap for bringing the town into disrepute. The real lost gem meanwhile is “I Saw You”. It’s a charming tale built on surges that get faster and faster, fall apart, then take another run-up. It’s a blast!
The band buried two bonus tracks on here. The first is a cover of Bonnie Tyler’s “It’s a Heartache”, very much fun garage band territory. The second is a solo track from Moffat potentially addressed to Middleton as he headed off for a stint working on the Isle of Mull. “Bon Voyage” is a hokey mix of keyboard pre-sets and battered keys, but is also surprisingly detailed.