The site message was polite and optimistic: "Yes, it's the end for Arab Strap. After 10 years, six studio albums, three live albums, and all manner of everything else, we've decided the story should come to a close. There's no animosity, no drama, we simply feel we've run our course and The Last Romance seems to us the most obvious and logical final act of the Arab Strap studio adventure. Everybody likes a happy ending!... It is midnight on the 8th of September 2006 and I have just opened a beer. Cheers."
Well it's 7:03 am on September 10, 2006 as I start to write this, and I have just opened a beer too, but it's not making me feel any better about the break-up of Arab Strap. It's true that everybody likes a happy ending, but everybody loves more tales of sexual conquest, crises, and confusion, bitter ass-ends of relationships, quick cummers and two-stroke wonders, nights of binge drugging and drinking, and "blood on the johnnie" too, don't they?
Malcolm Middleton (mostly music) and Aidan Moffat (mostly lyrics) started Arab Strap in the central Scottish town of Falkirk in 1995 and quickly gained a reputation as dour, snarky cynics. C'mon...you start singing stuff like "They've seen me in the shower with shit down my legs" and "Smelling my fingers on the way back home" and next thing you know you are pigeonholed into that commonest of labels, the miserable/drunk/pervert band (FYI... rumored to be the next new Grammy Award category). Fortunately, the band was more known and revered for its dramatic musical originality and lyrical nous, a heady concoction that few bands — especially two-piece-based ones at that — could ever equal. To rub salt in others' wounds, the 'Strap also pulled off getting a song in a commercial for a product that is actually cool. The classic debut single "The First Big Weekend" was snagged by stout giant (?) Guinness for one of their popular UK ads.
So now it's 9:34 am (yes, it took me that long to write the nonsense you just read), and I'm considering draining the maraschino cherries and vanilla extract from the cupboard for a quick brain buzz while I reminisce about embarrassing fumbles with ex-loves and lost plastered weekends, but mostly about a band that wrote about such things with much more thought and dauntless honesty than I ever could.
Not surprisingly, Moffat and Middleton will go out with a celebratory bang, not a confectionary-assisted whimper, by issuing a career-spanning compilation entitled Ten Years of Tears and touring the UK in November and December. The album is expected on October 23 in the UK through on-and-off-and-on-again label Chemikal Underground (early 2007 in North America) and will feature a good representation of the band's back catalogue of lusty smut: early demos, unreleased and live tracks, B-sides and sessions, plus all the "hits." Speaking to the NME, Middleton explained the track choices thusly: "Sometimes the albums were a bit stifled because we were worrying too much about making a good album. I think that live versions of songs and b-sides etc show a truer, more relaxed side to the band. Ten Years of Tears can serve both as an introduction to Arab Strap and also a fitting finale to those people who have followed us along the way."
The tracks of their Ten Years of Tears:
1 Preface: Set the Scene
2 Islands (original 1995 demo)
3 The First Big Weekend
4 Gilded (live from first ever show)
5 I Saw You (first John Peel session)
6 The Clearing (single version)
7 Packs of Three (acoustic, live in studio 2006)
8 (Afternoon) Soaps
9 Rocket, Take Your Turn (Fukd ID 12")
10 To All a Good Night
11 Turbulence (Bis remix, radio edit)
12 The Shy Retirer
13 Blood (live 2004)
14 If There's No Hope For Us (rogue version)
15 Where We've Left Our Love
16 The Girl I Loved Before I Fucked (full band version)
17 Oxytocin (first ever recording)
18 There Is No Ending (7" edit)
The compilation will be preceded by a 7-inch single featuring the edit of "There Is No Ending" and backed with a remix of "The First Big Weekend" by Four Tet. The good news is that after the break-up, the remaining pieces will carry on their respective solo activities. Middleton is recording the follow-up to the superb Into the Woods album with ubiquitous studio helmsman Tony Dougan, and Moffat will continue to pen his personal poemsongs and record his ongoing Lucky/L. Pierre project (a new album, Dip, is due in early 2007). The farewell tour is being planned now and includes at least the 11 dates listed below. Even if Arab Strap always rubbed you against the grain, how could you not raise a pint (and a hug) to a band who were once "disowned" by their hometown of Falkirk after branding it as boring, run-down, and full of violent druggies and alcoholics?
The last live romance:
11.01.06 - Nottingham, England - Rescue Rooms
11.03.06 - Norwich, England - Arts Centre
11.05.06 - Portsmouth, England - Wedgewood Rooms
11.06.06 - Liverpool, England - Liverpool Theatre
11.07.06 - Bristol, England - Thekla
11.08.06 - London, England - Scala
11.29.06 - Manchester, England - Academy 3
12.01.06 - Edinburgh, Scotland - Cabaret Voltaire
12.02.06 - Aberdeen, Scotland - Tunnels
12.03.06 - Glasgow, Scotland - King Tut's Wah Wah Hut
12.04.06 - Glasgow, Scotland - King Tut's Wah Wah Hut