Arab Strap
Photo: Courtesy of Chemikal Underground

The 10 Key Albums of Arab Strap

PopMatters takes a rapid-fire tour of the ten key releases that every Arab Strap fan should have in hand.

Scenes of a Sexual Nature (Chemikal Underground, 2010)

Scenes of a Sexual Nature (Chemikal Underground, 2010)

While the vinyl repress of Arab Strap’s first two albums was welcome, the real appeal of the box-set was its extensive array of rarities. It’s surprising how little crossover there was with Ten Years of Tears, Scenes of a Sexual Nature acting more like a baroquely packaged sequel. What it did very well was to gather the entire 1996-1998 output of Arab Strap together including two John Peel sessions, all the singles, two quality live recordings, and the band’s 1995 demo that won Chemikal Underground’s attention.

The 1996 show at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut was Arab Strap’s live debut for which Moffat and Middleton hired in members of a local Falkirk punk band. The result is noisy, messy, and a total hoot. The festival show included is also a decent listen, a lot more together, and different enough it complements Mad For Sadness rather than duplicating it.

A further selling point was the band recording a new song, “Daughters Of Darkness”. Its night-time electronica is a definite stepping stone between Arab Strap’s 1995-2006 period and their comeback. It shows the band slipping into old guises, remembering how comfortable past moves felt, while having no desire to repeat themselves.

Arab Strap (Chemikal Underground, 2016)

Arab Strap (Chemikal Underground, 2016)

Coinciding with Arab Strap’s 10th-anniversary reunion concerts, it was fair enough they took the first shot at a greatest hits record. Being Arab Strap it is, of course, an idiosyncratic selection. First, there are only nine songs taken from their six albums — a rather lean ‘greatest hits’. Second, that means they can only bring themselves to include a single song from Elephant Shoe, Monday at the Hug and Pint, and The Last Romance which wildly underrates those records.

The compilation distilled key moments from Scenes of A Sexual Nature, plus a couple of rarities from Ten Years of Tears, onto a bargain-priced two-disc selection. In itself, it does enough across two discs to be a very worthwhile exercise. Surprisingly, it also came with “Mustard” a previously unreleased outtake, from the Monday at the Hug and Pint sessions. It’s a stripped-down, minimal, but seemingly complete track with Moffat’s voice set to guitar and keys. It’s clear why it wouldn’t have stood out on the 2003 album but it’s a pleasingly gentle and thoughtful listen. Do also note the way this record prioritizes drum machines over live drums, something the band admit foreshadowed their new album, As Days Get Dark.

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