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Wednesday, May 28, 2003

HIGH NOTES

NEW RELEASE

Arab Strap: "Monday at the Hug and Pint"


The Scottish duo Arab Strap are the poet laureates of alcohol-induced sexual torpor. Vocalist Aidan Moffatt's slurred, sotto voce ramblings about unpretty girls picked up in seedy bars and bedded in a haze of beer and E would normally be an acquired taste, but in the U.K. the group's songs have graced both the Top 40 and TV commercials. And while Malcolm Middleton's guitar work has the same hypnotic quality as that of his drinking mates in Mogwai, we're talking real songs here, not heavy weather instrumentals.

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Their sixth album, "Monday at the Hug and Pint," continues the pair's flirtation with conventional accessibility that began with their previous release, "The Red Thread." Having slowly built their guitar-and-drum-machine sound into something that resembles a band, Arab Strap now accepts the services of real musicians, including two members of Bright Eyes, two female violinists and some horns. Whereas "The Red Thread" found Moffatt waxing lyrical about romance and loss, here the topic is different states of inebriation. "We'll all be standing here 'til the pigs chuck us out," he muses in a song called, appropriately enough, "Meanwhile, At the Bar, A Drunkard Muses." Frustration is the emotional impetus behind the lyrics, but Moffatt knows chemicals are mainly to blame.

"You know I'm always moanin'," he tells a lassie on a stool in "The Shy Retirer," "But you jump-start my serotonin." If the rhyme sounds cute, it doesn't compare to the group's winking affection for '80s synth-pop on a handful of songs. However, they've also decided that straight rock can be fun. The magnificent "F**king Little Bastards" features full-on drums and fuzz-laden guitar, while two waltzes, "Peep-Peep" and "Loch Leven," prove that Moffatt's talent for evocative imagery ("Roll down the window of your car/And say, 'Hello, stranger"') is now complemented by a talent for evocative melodies; even his singing has become more like singing. The soused misanthrope finally seems eager to make a connection. Hugs and pints for everyone.



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