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Artist: Malcolm Middleton

Album: 5:14 fluoxytine seagull alcohol john nicotine

Label: Chemikal Underground

Review date: Dec. 2, 2002

Strapped for Happiness

After years spent turning out the music to accompany Aidan Moffat’s merciless sermons, Malcolm Middleton (Arab Strap’s multi-instrumentalist) finally penciled in some studio time for himself. His first solo effort, 5:14 fluoxytine seagull alcohol john nicotine is a 12-song journey through the depths of his besieged mind that both expands his musical breadth and challenges Moffat’s crown for lyrical supremacy.

5:14 fluoxytine seagull alcohol john nicotine finds Middleton crying face-down in the same spilled lager that Moffat’s been threatening to nod off in since the early 90’s but where Moffat turns his aggression outward – implicating everyone from ex-girlfriends, to current girlfriends, to other people’s girlfriends in the grand scheme to prolong his sadness – Middleton discovers there’s no greater evil than himself. He spends the majority of 5:14… telling us how much of a fuck-up he is. On “Wake Up” he wastes no time confessing, “and I’ll do the best I can but I’m a liar / I don’t have a plan / and I’ll do the best for you but I’m hopeless / I don’t have a clue.” He saves his harshest criticism for the albums’ closer “Devil & The Angel” where he whimpers over a solo acoustic guitar, “I’m dishonest and dirty / I just don’t have a life / and I’ll never amount to anything / I’ll never achieve anything / I’ll never be good at anything / and my songs are shite.” Poor bastard. With a self-concept like his, who needs enemies?

After the all-to-familiar gloom and doom vibe of “Crappo The Clown” and the God-awful wailing that destroys the chorus of “Wake Up” are laid to rest, the album settles in for one of the more pleasurable listening experiences of the year. “Best In Me,” the rare instance where Middleton isn’t flogging himself for lying or surrendering to his most base desires, is a song that even the Reindeer Section – with their wellspring of talented Scots – could never write. It’s a perfect solo-record song because it’s so damn personal and revealing. Middleton funnels his depression to the side for a moment and musters the courage needed to confess that his heart hasn’t gone completely black in his chest.

That any hope at all exists must ultimately trouble Middleton. For if tiny glimmers of a better life never shone through, his mood would almost be justified. If everything perished at once, it would alleviate the need to care at all. But seeing that this world persists in small doses, threatening only at the edges to fall apart, Middleton curls himself around an ever-dissolving center, caring just enough to ensure his continued unhappiness.

By John Yandrasits

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