1996 saw the release of Arab Strap’s first single, “The First Big Weekend,” and debut album The Week Never Starts Round Here. Into an underground rock milieu preoccupied at the time with slo-core, math rock, and all things Pet Sounds, the duo of Malcolm Middleton and Aidan Moffat couldn’t have sounded more alien.
In many ways, The Week Never Starts Round Here bears all the marks of a debut: it’s raw, unguarded, and crammed with ideas. It also firmly establishes the particular set-up that would define Arab Strap’s sound over the course of eleven years, with Middleton handling the music while Moffat provides the vocals and lyrics. Even this division of labor—more common to rap music than to the shoegazers and increasingly ubiquitous “collectives” of indie rock—seemed to defy expectations.
The sound of Arab Strap is a distinct brand of existential
miserablism. Middleton’s cleverly arranged foundation of nocturnal guitars and rudimentary drum machines provides a canvas for Moffat to relay, in a thick Scottish dialect, his many sloshed, candid confessions. Long before artists like Mike Skinner chronicled the picaresque days of lads getting pissed and getting laid, Arab Strap’s vivid tales of lovers, lager and shame were being broadcast on college stations everywhere.
Hedonism, however, comes at a price. At the heart of The Week Never Starts Round Here is a kind of wounded vulnerability; there is something uniquely pitiable about the lecherous sot Moffat embodies in these songs. “I can't make boasts about my body,” Moffat confesses on “General Plea To A Girlfriend”; “the workmanship is somewhat shoddy.” This is the same band, of course, that would name its next album after the clinical term for “fear of falling in love.”
The album also introduces another of Arab Strap’s particular quirks: civic pride. For a man who likes a drink, Moffat is a surprisingly reliable narrator: his lyrics often reference actual places, people and events, lending to his narratives a kind of Joycean realism. At two different points on The Week Never Starts Round Here Moffat makes explicit references to his foil, Middleton. The particular football match between England and Ireland referenced in “The First Big Weekend” verifiably occurred; The Canteen was in fact a real bar in
Falkirk; the Arches was a working nightclub in Glasgow. If so inclined, one could even make a pilgrimage to Scotland and map their own guided tour of Arab Strap locations.
Middleton may be Arab Strap’s secret weapon and ultimate visionary. Though the whistling solo on “General Plea to a Girlfriend” may be about as over-produced as the album gets, Middleton’s musical accompaniment is always deftly congruent, whether Moffat’s lyrics call for melancholy, brittle, or throbbing like a wicked hangover.
The Week Never Starts Round Here is an album full of drugged-up kisses and dried up egos; it chronicles the conquests and knockbacks of weekends that last forever, and it does so unapologetically, poetically, and profanely. Indie rock would never be the same.