Stephen McLaren – We Used to Go Raving

With an overcast demeanour and a healthy dose of cynicism, the debut solo effort from Stephen McLaren is a quintessential Central Belt record

Album Review by Andrew Gordon | 25 Sep 2017
Album title: We Used to Go Raving
Artist: Stephen McLaren
Label: Errant Media
Release date: 29 Sep

The debut solo effort from Stephen McLaren, former master of reveries for Edinburgh dream pop outfit Collar Up, is a quintessential Central Belt record. All the touchstones are present: an overcast demeanour, a healthy dose of cynicism, plenty righteous anger in the face of injustice and, despite everything, a touch of nostalgia. And don’t forget the remorseful song about having made an arse of yourself on the swally the night before – that’ll be the one called Yet Again, I Have Offended Everyone.

Things get off to a melancholy start on the title track, a mournful ode to a withered friendship that doubles as a rumination on aging. The achingly pretty backing vocals and the sheer urgency with which McLaren hammers the piano create a heightened sense of drama, and there’s a poignancy to the familiar reference points in his lyrics – surely we all know someone we last saw 'ten years ago in a tent in Balado'? 

But McLaren’s also got plenty to say about the present state of things round these parts. You can practically hear the steam shooting out his ears on Immigrants, his vehement, hilarious caricature of rah-rah Brexiteers, while heart-on-sleeve independence anthem No More (Say Yes) is similarly inspirited.

It’s a pity, then, that he often sounds like he’s making his piece from the far end of a school gym hall. While no doubt distinctive, the production work on We Used to Go Raving is unquestionably rough around the edges, sounding more mud hut than Beach House on the dream pop scale. That said, we'll take passion over polish any day.

Listen to: Immigrants, We Used to Go Raving