Halfway into Arab Strap’s weepy “Tears on Tour,” vocalist Aidan Moffat evokes a novel fantasy: “What would you call the opposite of a comedian?” he asks in his thick Scottish burr. “Whatever that is, that’s what I wanted to be. I dreamed of touring the country … telling tales of woe. The audience would join me in a long collective cry; we would all weep together as one. I even planned the merchandise.” It’s so tragic, outlandish, and precisely detailed that it’s amusing — and that has always been the charm of Arab Strap.
Even though the song comes off the brooding indie-rock duo’s recent reunion record, As Days Get Dark (released ironically as days start getting brighter) it could easily fit anywhere in the band’s discography. Moffat has always had a knack for cutting, sardonic observations that turn in on themselves — even the band’s name, a sex device (cf. Steely Dan), is funny since so many of their songs are about unrequited romance — while Malcolm Middleton summons beautifully heartrending backdrops of musical melancholy. There may be 16 years between the new record and their last LP, 2006’s underappreciated The Last Romance, but they haven’t lost sight of their shared vision — even through misty eyes.
“Tears on Tour” is both the saddest and wittiest song on As Days Get Dark. Its wilting keyboard line and sparse piano perfectly complement Moffat’s verses about crying over dead family members, his broken heart, soppy Broadway musicals, books, rom-coms, and “The Muppet Movie, Frozen, Frozen II.” Then he perfectly captures the numbness so many of us have felt over the last year: “But I can’t tell you why tonight my eyes are dry.” He takes a break for his soliloquy and then revisits his inner abyss, singing, “I’m waiting for the waterworks to come, but I don’t feel a thing.” Then it all kind of drifts off into a forest of Middleton’s David Gilmour-esque guitar.
For all of Moffat’s wry remarks, there is still something genuinely moving about the way he presents his vignettes of grief and something affecting in the restraint of Middleton’s music. It’s OK to well up with your tongue in cheek — that is the true Arab Strap experience.
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