He’s been wandering around our lives for years, of course, but most of us didn’t really know it. Sharp-edged with a fierce honesty and a need to grab you- gently- in the street and spin you round, dark-funny, messy-sexual, Falkirk-wise, clownish and deadly fucking serious, this emphatic, empathic Celtic romantic, this grumpy ex-lover, ex-this, ex-that, all twisted and yearning and straight-down-the-line, has been doleing out advice and chords and sweet and sour words in guise after disguise for years. Mocking and lusting and drinking, run through with smart, rainy, self-effacing angst, with edge-of-suicide hope and wit, with an amused, amusing snarl, he’s talked and torn, sung and screamed, run without really going anywhere. Like you and me, he’s just done what he’s had to do. But most of us didn’t really know it.
Another album, another set of songs, this time (he says/they say) more positive, celebratory, declaiming the power of love, unapologetic. Even less pop-starry than mate and fellow Arab Strappist Malcolm Middleton, bluer, both lighter and more pinched, more pushing, you hear John Martyn and Jackie Leven and those horror-film chant-songs the girls at junior school hymned, you smell spirits and seaweed and kebabs and babies, you see gulls and craggy men crying, you taste smoke and vomit, you feel bliss and pain and warmth.
Two different-same voices, flutes, cellos, ancient, ’80s beat-box, repeating, striking, childlike, joyous, immense: as a kick-off, Lover’s Song’s stray longing, all lust divided by seas and time, is stunning, beyond, apart. We sit up, smiling- this bloke’s OK, he’s one of us. We don’t come back to this magnificence again, but that’s alright. Wistful, winding celebration of freedom from attachment, Big Blonde confirms it- we like him, a man like us, desperate, stupid, wry. This is as far from rock’n’roll as you can get without being Coldplay, but in the right direction. Slow down, talk, drink a bit: the actually-quite-similar-to-that-guilty-surprise-and-joy-feeling-when-you-find-out-someone-you-can’t-stand-is-vulnerable-and-real poem/song/thing that is the Atheist’s Lament moves and shakes. We know there’s no God and we find that so, so sad. And we take refuge in music like this.
Move on. Oh Men. Christ, we’re stupid, aren’t we? Nursery rhyme, Scottish wedding, staggering home: this is apology and plea for understanding. We can’t help it, it’s the way we are . . . Some of us, though (cheers, Aidan) turn it to a kind of tarnished gold. And now? A Scenic Route To The Isle Of Ewe: discordant, childlike, pattering, string-scraping, percussion and sweetly indulgent. ‘I’m not interested in pop shine’, he says. Waves kiss the shore. Banjo picks. What year is this? How old am I? Is he taking the piss? She is handsome, she is pretty. Be serious, man. Silly and then deep, black, sleepless-night sad. Throwaway and forever. That’s Just Love.
And on: this peculiar, normal geezer prompts (then quickly tramples over) thoughts of Cave and Cash and Cohen, of Dylan and Drake and Wyatt and Waits and Walker, Ballad Of The Unsent Letter offering regret and airports and goings and comings. Now I Know I’m Right is slur-smiling, late-night self-justification for past mistakes, self-flagellation for letting them all go, all those Icouldabeenacontenders. Melody’s disappeared almost entirely by now: we’re lying between conversation and music, he’s delivering poetry with odd waves of harmony, with staccato swathes of percussive persuasion. It’s monotone and miserable, drifts towards dullness, pulls back. It would eat Simon Cowell slowly and spit him out, one piece of robotic, calculating MariaWhitney smugness at a time. If it could bear to get anywhere near him.
As would the McGowanesque The Last Kiss, which crosses the Irish Sea, drops down to Cornwall, puts its arm round you, makes you sing with it, swaying and happy, rough, ready. One day- at the O2, you reckon?- they’ll all be singing this. And maybe this: a Lullaby For Unborn Child. Ultrasound rhythm, reggae-real, heartbeat, fearful, fleetingly reminds you of that bloody song Liam did, father and son, bonded, bounded, uncertain, each both unborn and old. If you need anything, ‘just knock on the wall of your womb’.
And finally Living With You Now- personal, crying-out-loud, intimate, hard and so soft- and My Goodbye. This one’s folded into the rest, is short and weird and hints at pop singalongness. I want the landlord in my local to play it at the end of the evening but he won’t.
Ah well. Moffat’s been going on for half-hour or so now and that feels like just enough. End- as they say- of. How To Get To Heaven From Scotland comes with a board-game (yeah) and a special! extra! free! cover of I Got You Babe (oh yeah). You might like it.
Release Date: 14/02/2009
Artist Website: www.aidanmoffat.co.uk
Label: Chemikal Underground