Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review: Malcolm Middleton - Waxing Gibbous (* * * *)

Malcolm Middleton has suggested that his latest effort, Waxing Gibbous, may be his last solo record for some time. The former Arab Strap frontman has remained quite active as of late, releasing five records since 2002, and though it's obvious his songwriting talent remains sharp, Middleton is ready to move on for a while before returning to his solo career, though we can only speculate now as to what project(s) he has in mind. It's fortunate, then, that his latest effort is a strong one, an engaging and enjoyable hour of well-executed pop that should give fans plenty to love in this semi-farewell. The pop-folk formula hasn't changed much but the songs are solid and Middleton's characteristically lonely lyricism combined with his engaging melodies is as winning as it has ever been.

Beginning the album are two clear highlights, the upbeat on-the-road-again song "Red Travellin' Socks" and the homecoming anthem "Kiss at the Station," both driving pop tunes fully stuffed with guitars, drums, and backing vocals to back Middleton's yearning lyrics. The songs are bright and sweet in their presentation, but sandwiched between the romantic longing are references to falling rain and the need for 'space,' so it seems clear that the Scottish songsmith isn't quite ready or willing to write simple love ballads. More obvious misery manifests itself in the spoken-word interludes on "Carry Me," the pleading "Ballad of F*** All," and the brokenhearted "Made Up Your Mind," and even with the hook-ier material like "Shadow" (complete with a do-do-do-do refrain) painting a less gloomy picture, the mood on Waxing Gibbous is decidedly disheartened. Fortunately, even for all his depressing poetry, Middleton rarely sound too heavy-handed or overly angsty, making this a record that can be enjoyed more often than during times of heartbreak and despair.

Best of luck to Middleton on whatever he chooses to do next, but I'm hoping he returns to making solo records sometime soon. Waxing Gibbous may not provide much in the way of the artistic growth that Middleton may be seeking, but it's another reminder of the genuine talent that has earned him the admiration of so many over his lengthy career. Check out a couple tunes from the album below or visit Malcolm Middleton on MySpace.

Carry Me (MP3)

Don't Want to Sleep Tonight
(MP3 via RCRD LBL)