Just looking at the booklet which comes with the new Aidan John Moffat (out of Arab Strap) CD. Opposite the page which begins, in big letters, “PART ONE: POOP”, there’s something that isn’t a disclaimer, more a claimer, I suppose. “The characters portrayed in this work are non-fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is entirely intentional.”
Moffat is one of those artists that, you suspect, it might be difficult to be friends with, let alone lovers, given the likelihood that your basest instincts and most human frailties would probably end up on a record sooner or later. For the past year or two, it’s seemed as if he’s been suppressing that instinct to expose a little, thanks to some pleasant but inconsequential instrumental records released under the predictably saucy name, Lucky Pierre.
But now that Arab Strap have been put out of their misery – a band, I think, who started to become a bit boring around the time they started trying to be more of a band, and less of a spoken-word-odyssey-with-accompanying-post-rock – it seems as if Moffat can happily return to his greatest strength: droll and explicit narratives about sex and incompetence and dreadful intoxication and stains and so on.
This is the gist of “I Can Hear Your Heart”, a sort of audio novel, a spoken-word narrative set to various snippets of music – mainly the sort of grainy, looped easy listening samples that are familiar from Lucky Pierre records, rather than the Slint/New Order hybrids so often favoured by Arab Strap (and in part perpetuated by Moffat’s old henchman Malcolm Middleton on his somewhat overpraised solo records).
It’s not a perfect album. There’s some fairly grating mucking-about in the middle (a collapsing version of Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” is one of the more coherent snatches), and a notably poor poem called “All The Love You Need” which tries to invert a bunch of racist terms and fails, perhaps inevitably. The sort of people who actually worry about Political Correctness might find this a breath of fresh air; I didn’t.
But at its best, “I Can Hear Your Heart” shows what a compelling writer Moffat remains. You’re tempted to see him as a novelist in denial, and the CD begins with a stern warning from Moffat to read the (very fine) short story in the CD booklet first. But as the highlights of the album unravel, it’s Moffat’s bleary, oddly romantic delivery which adds much to his sordid story about various girlfriends, threesomes, random shags and such.
Reading that short story, “Poop”, first, you discover Moffat having a line in a pub toilet on a night out with his girlfriend and his ex. He notices a telephone number on the wall of the cubicle, prefaced by the line “For Free Sex Phone”, and feeds it into his phone, saved as “4Sex”.
On the CD, it gradually becomes clear that the irate Glaswegian on the phone is the unfortunate recipient of the drunkenly curious Moffat’s 4Sex calls. I won’t give away the whole story, though it’s worth pointing out that it takes a few listens to work it out. The climax is a straight, unaccompanied tale called “Hilary And Back” which, in ten minutes, finds Moffat in stripey pyjama trousers and laden down with beer, gatecrashing a party and getting off, after a fashion, with the 16-year-old birthday girl. There’s something really poignant about the writing, and a crisp atmosphere which pulls you into Moffat’s morally indeterminate, generally slightly grubby universe.
It’s the sort of track you can only imagine playing once, but end up playing again and again. It’s on again now, putting me off my writing, actually. . .