Arab Strap

I'm Totally Fine With It👍 Don't Give A Fuck Anymore👍

Arab Strap’s second post-retirement album, an exploration of aging and internet culture, will leave you blubbering and gutted, says Bernie Brooks

What an album title, huh? Attitude, a saucy swear, emojis that may or may not wreak havoc with websites’ CMS [they do, Ed], nonstandard capitalisation! It really has it all. But what if I told you that Arab Strap were lying? What if I told you that despite it being called I’m totally fine with it don’t give a fuck anymore, it’s clear from both content and delivery that Arab Strap are not fine with it and very much do give a fuck? Would that shock you? Aidan Moffat and Malcolm Middleton care – a lot.

But then, they always have. Even at their most debauched, soaked in booze and self-loathing and hedonistic ennui, at the heart of it, they cared. That’s a huge part of what made even the bleakest of their pre-retirement tracks not just bearable, but compelling, affecting, endearing. Here, they care, so they regret; they care, so they fear; they care, so they hurt. They care, so they’re really pretty angry. Maybe angrier than they’ve ever been on record. They’re practically raging from the jump.

With its rough and tumble riffage and nearly lo-fi sensibility, opener ‘Allatonceness’ immediately calls to mind their nearly 30-year-old ‘Islands’ demo, and with it the Strap’s earliest singles. But instead of new love and getting pissed at the pub, they’re pissed at the Internet. It’s a nice switcheroo that sets up one of the album’s central theses. Yes, dear reader, this is, in large part, another body of work that dares to ask, “What if internet bad?” Wait, wait! Don’t click away – the twist is that this one is good. 

As is usually the case with these guys, Moffat and Middleton never condescend. Having expelled much of their external vitriol by the end of track one, most of their ire is reserved for themselves. Basically everyone else from that point on gets compassion, or at least consideration. We’re all clueless and helpless, in this mess together, locked into screens, rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The pill is still bitter, but, having implicated themselves more than anyone, it’s much easier for us listeners to swallow.

Which brings us to the ‘middle aged’ bits, which spool out nicely from the ‘internet is bad’ parts, when they aren’t knotted up together, inseparable, as on ‘Summer Season’, an emotional bramble of aging and isolation in our age of unrestrained connectivity. It’s hugely relatable and, as such, feels kinda awful. But that’s nothing compared to the real horror-show stuff: loss, dying alone. Man, fading libido is the least of it. Moffat is characteristically unflinching – but not necessarily unkind – as he rips out our hearts and scrambles our guts with his weathered, measured Scottish brogue. Two releases into their post-retirement phase, this isn’t necessarily unexpected, but damn, in the wrong headspace? (Or at the wrong age?) It will 100% mess you up, leave you blubbering on the floor.

So, why subject ourselves to this at all? Listen, this isn’t self-flagellation or some sad-sack, gen-X pervert whinging about increasingly mediocre boners over aimless acoustic drivel. This shit bangs. ‘Bliss’s insistent, undeniable combo of chintzy drum machines, bass, and glistening guitars echoes its title, while opening the door to Mogwai comparisons – just this once. If only Andrew Weatherall were still alive to remix it. ‘Strawberry Moon’ has anthemic swagger to spare, its scuzz bass and Roland flavour paving the way for an earworm chorus that’ll never leave your noodle. So bittersweet you can almost taste it.

Not too long ago, a friend told me his brother had never heard of notorious cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer. Given when we grew up, this seemed insane. After getting the lowdown, my buddy’s brother replied, “Why would I want to know about something like that?” I thought about how light that unknowing must have felt, about the heaviness that replaced it. Always connected to but disconnected from each other, inundated with information and misinformation, day in and day out, spared only by sleep, in our Now we are denied both that lightness of not knowing and the agency to act on the heaviness we’re saddled with. I’m totally fine with it don’t give a fuck anymore captures and conveys that feeling perfectly. The feeling? It sucks. The album doesn’t.

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