Album Review: Human Don't Be Angry
Malcolm Middleton, it seems fair to say, is hardly the cheeriest of guys. His former band Arab Strap documented the trials and tribulations of rotten sex and drunken misery, while his solo efforts have had uplifting song titles such as 'Cheer Down', 'Crappo the Clown', 'Death Love Depression Love Death' and 'We're all Going to Die', which was hilariously and ingeniously released as a Christmas single.
His back catalogue has crossed the entire misery spectrum, charting his isolation, lost loves, and general misanthropy.
Despite the downbeat attitude, Middleton's solo albums tended to have a certain knowingness and a sense of humour about them, much in the same way that Morrissey clearly has his tongue firmly in-cheek during a song like 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now'. But misery has always been viewed as the mainstay of Middleton, and it's something he seems keen to get away from.
It's with this in mind that his new project's title, Human Don't be Angry, seems like a statement of intent, a command to himself. And it would seem that this intention has worked, as Human Don't Be Angry marks Middleton's biggest break from anything he's previously done.
Apart from on a few songs, lyrics are completely jettisoned for purely instrumental affairs. When Middleton does feel the need to sing, his lyrics are far more positive. Instead of being stuck in isolation, his lyrics consist of him pro-actively moving towards something, as in 'Firdt Person Singular, Present Tense' with his repetition of “Looking for the person” through the majority of the song, before concluding with “I open my eyes and I'm home”. Love is the target for the majority of his lyrics, and it seems to Middleton that it's the only place to be content. The overwhelming message is apparent; if you aren't happy within yourself, find somebody else to be happy with.
The music itself is as accomplished and beautiful as anything Middleton has ever done, but instead of the tight pop that he seemed have perfected on albums like A Brighter Beat and Waxing Gibbous, Human Don't Be Angry aims for a more experimental approach to the structures of each song. The lack of lyrics in the majority of the tracks also means that the ironic juxtaposition of reasonably upbeat sounding music with lyrics focusing mainly on misery is gone.
Replacing it is a sense of ambient beauty, as on a song like 'Jaded', or an overwhelming determination, as on the frantic pounding drums of 'Monologue: River'. Each song is one of beautiful construction that leads you to the feelings of calm and contentedness that it seems like the songwriter is feeling too. If listening to a Malcolm Middleton album is a bit like sitting in on a therapy session, then Human Don't Be Angry's eponymous first album is like a patient finally recovering, and all the better for it.
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