sun 26/01/2020

CD: Malcolm Middleton - Bananas | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Malcolm Middleton - Bananas

CD: Malcolm Middleton - Bananas

Scotland's great mordant romantic returns to his songwriting roots

Not The Velvet Underground & Nico

Bananas is Malcolm Middleton’s first solo album to be built around guitar, bass, drums and all that stuff since 2009’s gorgeous Waxing Gibbous. Like any great artist, he soon became bored with pursuing the classic formulation that made his name (post-Arab Strap). He’s spent the last few years trying new ideas instead. His last album, Summer of ’13, was his take on electropop, there’s his Human Don’t Be Angry experimental albums and a collaboration with the artist David Shrigley. On Bananas, however, those who’ve been pining for his classic sound are rewarded.

Middleton is a wordsmith, striking, earthy, straightforward, unafraid of looking at depression. On opener “Gut Feeling” he opines, “I don’t have a gut feeling, I’ve got loads and loads of wankers inside my head shouting my gut feeling down,” while the song that follows is called “Love Is a Momentary Lapse in Self-Loathing”. Yet the music plays a trick, couching both as jaunty singalongs, the latter containing a jolly chorus sequence that runs “Fuck off with your happiness”.

He hasn’t deserted electropop completely. “Man Up, Man Down” is energized by a synth-disco backing track. “Buzz Lightyear Helmet”, meanwhile, rides a Stone Roses-like rhythm section before mutating into a prog number with a Beach Boys pastiche thrown in for good measure. These songs are richly enjoyable, as is the gloomily buzzing, catchy power pop of “That Voice Again”. They spice up the bleak beauty that’s also on board Middleton’s seventh album.

Built over a forlorn, lovely piano motif, “Twilight Zone” is about the songwriting process (and opens “There’s nothing worse than a successful Scotsman”). It’s not as sad as its music makes it sound. Humour’s in there too. Less so in “What a Life”, which blossoms slowly into a stark love song of hope. Those seeking peak Middleton heartbreak and beauty should cut straight to the end where “Salamander Gray” resides, boasting his trademark guitar style, overhanging dark clouds of strummed melody seeking resolution alongside his longing words. “This love from a young heart slowly turns salamander gray,” he sings at one point. Now that’s a line. Well, it is when it’s delivered in his unaffected but affecting Scottish burr. Middleton is a master, and he’s back with another chapter containing songs that stand beside his best.

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