As one half of Arab Strap, Malcolm Middleton, along with its other prominent member Aidan Moffat, produced songs which which while they occasionally defied description, went a long way towards reinvigorating and redefining the voice of modern Scots performers and songwriters. A new kind of experimental folk music if you like, voices and instrumentation more readily associated with traditional folk or standard punk cliches giving vent to all kinds of angst ridden urban themes – relationships, alcohol, relationships and alcohol, deeply personal dissections of failed social interludes, and openly erotic tales of assorted flirtations some of which had perhaps more joyful results than Moffat’s glumly sardonic vocal might perhaps lead listeners to expect. Very original and often very funny, Arab Strap were the one band amongst their Scots contemporaries of a decade ago (Mogwai, The Delgados, Bis and others) whose rules were entirely their own, and whose themes and unpredictable musicality are continued in both Moffat and Middelton’s solo work to date.
Until now, that is. Several years on from the last Arab Strap recordings, Malcolm Middleton has produced an album that is a significant development and indeed departure from practically everything he’s recorded to date. Human Don’t Be Angry is, and in an recent interview I read Middleton made no bones about his purpose, a quite serious work of composition that only takes his previous work as a starting block and an album to approach on a par alongside some of Paul Weller’s most recent releases, as well as the finely tuned nods to his sometime labelmates Mogwai and to the genre often referred to as ‘Jock Rock’ as a whole. Listen toHuman Don’t Be Angry and savour Middleton’s new found confidence in his abilities as he references, pays tribute to and gently satirises his own back catalogue and that of every other musician who has ever influenced him. Aidan Moffat appears as a guest drummer on several of the tracks but that is about as far as any resemblance to Arab Strap’s music goes. Human Don’t Be Angry is a purposeful and mostly successful experiment in modern composition, a concept album that’s the first of several (in interview, Middleton wouldn’t commit to revealing exactly whether or not this is the first part of a trilogy).
So, fans of metal artists such as Jan Hammer and Iron Maiden (some of Middleton’s own sardonic humours at play here), of Scots rockers such as Big Country and Nazareth, of 70s prog and soft rock, of the more expansive sounds of Mogwai, Neu, Durruti Column and also of early 80s glam pop and of course Arab Strap can all find something to appreciate amongst the nine tracks that make up what he would have us believe is his first very serious solo work but, listener – don’t be fooled – the joke has only got bigger and Malcolm Middleton’s position as Scotland’s premier musical prankster is more or less entirely cemented by the time the final notes of Human Don’t Be Angry fade off into the ironically romanticised Caledonian sunset of Malcolm Middleton’s wryly expressed musical imagination.