Malcolm Middleton – Waxing Gibbous (Full Time Hobby)
Because Waxing Gibbous is reputedly Malcolm Middleton’s last solo LP for quite some time, you’d expect some sort of parting message, a farewell, a sign-off. It appears to be “Fuck off. Can’t be fucked”. And that’s in no way a bad thing. Hasn’t most of his career, whether in Arab Strap or on his own, been a series of statements that amount to an almighty two fingered salute? Far from being a punk aesthete, Middleton has proven if nothing else to be a man continually obsessed with valorising himself. Desperate to be worthy and convinced that he’s not, this struggle has informed the work of other confused tykes like Jeffrey Lewis, but suits Middleton’s dour deliveries beautifully.
Waxing Gibbous begins with Middleton’s strongest ever single, Red Travellin’ Socks. A breezy, brisk and flying paean to change and not changing, it’s just about short enough and, in a weird Travelling Wilburys kind of way, totally heartening in its gruff harmonies and infinite chug. His Bat Out Of Hell. Of course, that can’t-be-fucked attitude doesn’t seem apparent amongst the Springsteen pomp and bristle, but Middleon’s typically self-chastising words paint a mirrored image. “I’m out of money and I’m sick of these songs… I need to get back where I belong,” When he’s knocked his material in the past, such as in the celestially excellent Devil And The Angel, it’s been from the perspective of others. The Devil visits Middleton in bed and tells him that his songs are shite, but this time Middleton’s telling himself.
Of course, it could be a numbing tactic of just knowing that your songs are alright while protesting that they aren’t so that people are encouraged to praise them, but that seems unlikely given the forceful and constant reference Middleton makes to his own shite-ness. When, on Ballad Of Fuck All, he whines softly of “dying softly” and other such weighty bags, we can see that the concerns of artistic integrity have not only become magnified, they’ve mutated into existential worries as well. What a time to leave the game, Malcy! Things are starting to get really interesting. That much of this new found focus on ‘the biggies’ of life is accompanied by a renewed sonic palette is a double frustration, because the wispy and relentlessly bleak crushing of man-made electrics is beautifully balanced with his now almost-virtuosic strumming.
But that doesn’t matter on the album’s closing track. Made Up Your Mind is a delicate ballad with balls, the likes of which Middleton has become used to effortlessly producing. Cruising he may be, but lines like “I’ve not given you all I’ve got” make his decision to abandon the solo craft for the meantime seem all the more inexplicable. If that stuff he hasn’t yet given us takes shape in another project then that’s fine, but his first five solo LPs have given us so much that any other incarnation will seem slightly alien. Until that happens, Malcolm Middleton couldn’t be fucked with how we feel about all this. Well, some of us could give a fuck, and want some more.
This is out on June the first, via Full Time Hobby. More here ‘cos that’s where it is and where you should go for it yep. Also reviewed at The Quietus, here. Happy Bank Holiday, see you Tuesday with a few words from Steve Abel…