Arab Strap’s recent reunion had the potential to overshadow all else its erstwhile members were involved in this year. But in Everything’s Getting Older, Aidan Moffat not only co-created one of the best albums of his career, but one of the finest of 2011
It features many of the expected lyrical themes – bitter infidelities, lust, STDs – but they surface in novel ways: Glasgow Jubilee sees Moffat re-stock turn-of-the-century play La Ronde with grubby Glasgow trysts (replacing counts and housemaids with groupies and randy bosses), while elsewhere, characters dismiss their consciences (Ballad of a Bastard’s confessions of an adulterer) or are reined in by them (Let’s Stop Here’s almost-fling).
But the sinful and the salacious only account for a slither of the narratives; though Moffat’s barbed wit and earthy poetry is undiminished, protagonists are as likely to be trapped by 'shopping lists and school runs, direct debits and tax credits' as runaway libidos. Rapscallions of yore are, as the title suggests, maturing, a theme carried through to the artwork: aged portraits inked by Frank Quietly. “The cover has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy for me,” Moffat tells us now. “My mother can’t look at it, she thinks it’s horrible! I don’t mind at all. I’m ready to embrace age and all it brings.”
Bill Wells is equally comfortable confronting his personal Dorian Gray-style likeness (“admittedly, it isn’t so flattering personally, but then again it’s beautifully drawn”). From instrumental opener Tasogare onwards, the renowned maestro stamps his authorship as firmly as Moffat, demonstrating great versatility across the likes of Glasgow Jubilee’s lounge-funk riff, the anxious jazzy-whirlpool of Cages, or the understated piano refrain that sharpens The Copper Top’s melancholic ruminations. It’s a fruitful partnership that both hope to repeat. “We’ve talked about it, aye,” says Aidan. “I think it’ll happen eventually. After we wrote a couple of new songs for the Cruel Summer EP I felt quite inspired again. There's no rush though, we've both got plans for the future. I've got at least two albums planned for next year, along with a possible vocal group and hopefully a children's book too. I've got another album planned for 2013 too, but I have a habit of starting things and finishing them years later, as Everything's Getting Older illustrates.” Work began circa 2003, but as Wells clarifies, “for at least five of these eight years we did nothing whatsoever, [so] I really hope it won't be so long 'til the next one.”
The album concludes with a brace of songs about fatherhood, the first of which pairs biological detail ('the lucky sperm and egg collide/ the zygote’s little cells divide') with balanced sentiment ('and remember: we invented love/ and that’s the greatest story ever told'), before And So We Must Rest’s lullaby closes with the sound of Moffat’s son snoozing. “He usually plugs his ears if I start singing a song,” says Aidan, “but when I was away [on tour] his Mum played The Greatest Story Ever Told to him and he said he liked it and wanted to listen to it again, which would have made me cry a wee bit if I hadn't been sitting in the front of a tour bus. Now that I'm home, though, it's back to plugged ears and nonchalance…”
Is Moffat concerned about what his son might make of his lyric sheets as he gets older? “I often wonder how I'm going to deal with that, aye. I can't hide it from him, not in this day and age, so I expect I'll have to be open and honest about it all. So he's either going to be a perfectly sensible, balanced young man or a complete steamer, it could go either way! But fuck it, if I can cope with my Mum listening to Arab Strap, then I'm sure I can deal with my son.”
While a series of gigs have kept the pair busy for much of the year (for Wells, the highlight of 2011 was “stepping through the door of my flat after returning from tour”), we ask what albums they’ve been bowled over by in the last twelve months. Wells singles out a re-release of Annette Peacock’s I’m The One (“still completely underrated – one of the most original and ground-breaking pieces of recording ever”), while Moffat doffs his cap to Slow Club’s Paradise. “I've seen some amazing gigs too: Remember Remember and Miaoux Miaoux at the Glasgow Planetarium, and Baby Dee in Bologna last week was amazing. There are many more, but I'm really bad at answering questions like this – I never remember anything. Everything's getting older indeed…”