The Woods (2005, Chemikal Underground)(4/5)
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.