Malcolm enlists members of Mogwai, Delgados and Arab Strap and trades in the quiet, hushed sound he banked on his solo debut for a more decidedly upbeat affair on Into The Woods. Now when I say upbeat I am simply speaking of the music. There is plenty of drum machine action going on and a few of the songs are even, dare I say, danceable. Malcolm really progresses as far as song structure and hooks go on this album. The music is far more clever and engaging than his debut solo effort.
The opener is a jumpy piano-driven tune that recalls Ben Folds, sung in a very thick Scottish accent, mind you. ‘No Modest Bear’ follows a bit later with heavy synth tones and backing female vox. Sometimes, Middleton tries to mesh beats against his vocals and comes off a bit grating, like on ‘A Happy Medium’. It’s got a cutesy guitar lick accentuated by drum machine but I think perhaps he should have dropped the vocals and left this as a quick snappy intermission of sorts. ‘Solemn Thirsty’ shows itself near the end of the album and is, by far, the best track on the album. Malcolm and his female counterpart, who also has a very pronounced accent, feed off each other nicely while sorrowful guitar and synth drive on in the background. The album closes with a bar brawlin’ rawk number, ‘A New Heart’, that closely resembles the song ‘Wake Up’ on his first album. It was nice to have this dropped on us at the end of the album, giving us a reminder that Malcolm can still write a great tune using the basic guitar, bass & drums format.
With all this said, the lyrics are still classic Middleton/Arab Strap. Tales of heartbreak, self-loathing and depression are abounds. Malcolm still spends his time beating himself up with lines like “Don’t wanna sing these shit songs no more” and “woke up again, realized I hate myself, my face is a disease”. So those seeking melancholic guidance need still apply. I’m going to say this is easily a stronger album than his debut musically and even perhaps lyrically though I am not totally convinced this is worth your hard-earned cash without you sampling a few songs first. This one will probably take a few listens to sink in, especially for those familiar with Malcolm’s previously solo output and contributions to Arab Strap. Initially, I felt the same way originally about 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine. Now it is one of my very favorite albums.