The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


Malcolm Middleton
Waxing Gibbous Daniel Ross , May 26th, 2009 07:50

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. And so it appears to be — a glorious 'Fuck off. Can't be fucked.' Which is 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? Middleton has proved to be nothing if not a man obsessed with valorising himself. Desperate to be worthy yet self-deprecatingly convinced that he's not, this struggle has informed the work of other confused tykes such as Jeffrey Lewis, but rather better suits Middleton's dour delivery.

Waxing Gibbous begins with Middleton's strongest ever single, 'Red Travellin' Socks'. A breezy, brisk and flying paean to change and not changing that's oddly in the vein of the Travelling Wilburys, heartening in its gruff harmonies and infinite chug. His 'Bat Out Of Hell', if you will. 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 dark reflection to the music. "I'm out of money and I'm sick of these songs… I need to get back where I belong," he sings. 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, in that case Beelzebub visiting Middleton in bed and telling him that his songs are shite, but this time Middleton is turning the negativity inwards.

Of course, it could be false modesty, but that seems unlikely given the forceful and constant reference Middleton makes to his own perceived inadequacies. When, on 'Ballad Of Fuck All', he whines of "dying softly" and other such baggage, 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 electronics 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 seem effortless in Middleton's hands. 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 the material 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 apparently can't give two hoots about how we feel about all this. Well, some of us could give a fuck - and want some more.