Arab Strap 2024
Photo: Arab Strap

Arab Strap Still Clearly Give a Fuck on Their Latest LP

Once again, Arab Strap have done a grand job worthy of broad smiles, screens off, and the stereo turned all the way up. Get outside and hear the birds sing.

I'm Totally Fine With It Don't Give a Fuck Anymore
Arab Strap
Rock Action Records
10 May 2024

The post-reformation comeback album is a difficult beast. Stray too far from one’s past, and the result is artificial, like lousy plastic surgery warping a familiar face into the realms of the uncanny. Similarly, just picking up where one left off five, ten, or 20 years ago might satisfy the odd die-hard fanatic, but it leaves the work adrift, separated from the many waves that have come since, a washed-up memento but nothing living. The sweet spot lies in some alchemical blend in which there is aging, growth, and maturity, coupled with sufficient remembrance of youth to remind people why they connected in the first place.

In the case of Arab Strap, their 2021 return, As Days Get Dark, was true magic. An album that commenced with the words, “I don’t give a fuck about the past, our glory days gone by”, while wrapped in all the characterful honesty and instrumental turmoil that makes them a deservedly enduring unit. But if there’s one thing harder than a comeback record, it’s likely the sophomore comeback, deciding where to go next having reestablished oneself.

The resigned frustration of the title for Arab Strap’s eighth LP – I’m Totally Fine With It Don’t Give a Fuck Anymore – is not reflective of any block on the part of Aidan Moffat or Malcolm Middleton: lyrics and composition impress throughout. The artwork captures a classically reclined figure, pearls in hand, dissolving into the cosmic dust of the universe as an asteroid burns a straight line down, down, down to ignite the fire of human consciousness. All reduced to another screengrab, casual, in-passing nothing by the blunt lozenge of a message tile bearing the album’s title. Ah, perfect! The divine once sullied by coarseness: a familiar set-up for these two troubadours.

As a sidebar, the accompanying videos are a remarkable testimony to Arab Strap’s determination to top themselves. Check out the surprisingly moving dance sequence of “Bliss” with its telling deployment of strobes, close-ups, shaky handhelds, sped-up moments, and the central performance of dancer Molly Scott Danter; then give a try to the ripping yarn of “Strawberry Moon” as Moffat dives into a long sinful night with mischievous supernatural fiends.

It was, perhaps, inevitable that these inveterate explorers of the realms of love, hope, degradation, and dismay should wind up creating an album dwelling on our consumer electronics and social media-dominated moment. “Summer Season” nods to WhatsApp’s double-ticks, to eternal games of phone tag and never actually meeting up, everything becoming a moment lived through a camera. “Allatonceness” rips into the “fat and the furious… the juvenile jilted… the slapstick insurgents… deluders and doxers… groomers and grifters… antagonized fanboys…” “Bliss” dwells on the torrential online abuse faced by women, and then there’s “You’re Not There” with its “encrypted valentines… blue bubbles… checking my replies for you…”

A repeated contrast is drawn in the lyrics: “Allatonceness” manages to be both a punch in the nose to its targets and a yearning for true beauty beyond human artifice. This same divide, the desire to take a breath of air anywhere other than in front of a screen, can be seen in the appeal elsewhere for “big strawberry moon, save my soul”; the chorus of “Bliss” where the sense lurks that such a state could be found if only one lost the “earbuds full blast to drown out the birds”; or “You’re Not There” where the emoji parade doesn’t offer salvation but maybe there’s a sign out in the night sky.

Arab Strap have perfected their particular blend of electropop, folk, and unabashed EDM, but I’m Totally Fine With It has some of their most straight-rocking moments. “Allatonceness” builds tension with a pounding live drum take backed by the sound of a modem – that familiar invitation to infinite patience familiar to anyone present at the start of the Internet era – before a gnarly guitar part grinds in and sets the mood for the song – no mercy, this is attack. “Strawberry Moon” is even more impressive, leading off with a burly main riff and then hurling in U2-worthy chopping leads, skittish synth, and clattering drum rolls for neat contrast, breaking to the tender touch of a buried piano, which opens the windows and breathes air through the song once more.

A few tracks retreat to the comfort zone: guitar notes circle over rudimentary drum machine rhythms, and vocals stay at the captain’s log conversational pace and tone. “Hide Your Fires” promises a lot with its kicking beat and beautiful core lament of “we’re never going back to the stars, I know”, but it ultimately sounds rather like “Cherubs”, a highlight from 1999. “Summer Season”, similarly, features a cracking chorus line that will spark singalongs in concert (“It’s summer season in the city and everyone’s so fuckin’ pretty”), but it’s otherwise rather tepid. Following straight on from those two songs, “Molehills” would likely feel like more of a welcome break if that sequencing didn’t mute its numerous deft touches: the subtle effects that billow out around the words “you are not my valentine…”, the impressionistic strings haunting the song from around its mid-point cutting to beautiful vocal harmonizing and a cracking finale.

But these are minor reservations amid an album that feels like such an eruption of creative energy from a band on a renewed jag of pure inspiration. “Safe and Well” is a stripped-down folk song, a logical perfection of Moffat’s efforts to modernize the canonical works of Scottish traditional music in the 2016 film Where You’re Meant to Be. “Sociometer Blues” is a Jean Tinguely sound sculpture of percussive layers, all rising to a cacophony of competing voices. Similarly, the laser-sharp electro-groove of “Bliss” achieves transcendence through sonorous beats and soaring guitar. “You’re Not There” has some of the most 1980s pop keyboard moments to ever grace an Arab Strap record, but they fit well amid rattling bottles, fizzing wires washing the background in static, and a vocal that moves as emotion dictates.

“Haven’t You Heard” and “Drag Queen” have grand anthem ambitions, seizing back sweet love, faith in the next generation, and good nights in bad company. Everything shifts again for the closer, “Turn Off the Light”, a winking electronic riff over ocean spray, a puttering tic, and cymbal beats, then it all turns on the word “small”. Suddenly, it’s a campfire-side sing-song, naked and alone on a mountainside somewhere, until the full swell of the song closes in, and it’s a scream of guitar, dancefloor fizz, and then that modem glides again.

It can be easy to despair amid the daily diet of the world’s worst, most flippant, most soul-crushing. But then there are always people, bright-eyed people who, for all their hard-earned cynicism, remind us of how wonderful the world can be. Arab Strap, once again, have done a grand job worthy of broad smiles, screens off, and the stereo turned all the way up before telling us to get outside and hear the birds sing through to dawn and a new day. There’s always hope.

RATING 9 / 10