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Malcolm Middleton – Sleight of Heart

Sleight of Heart

****

While former accomplice Aidan Moffat carries on hacking away at the Hallmark notion of romance, Malcolm Middleton presents his less bludgeoning but equally brazen thoughts on love with the aptly titled Sleight of Heart. Middleton deems this is an intermediate release between ‘proper’ albums but, when he wasn’t promoting his unlikely assault on the Christmas chart, he found time to record six original songs and cover three, making this more than just a B-side stitch-up. Middleton’s unflinching self-doubt is as piercing as ever, encapsulated on Total Belief: “My total belief in the depth… of my unworthiness.” But his beercan-strewn world is always gilded with hope, usually in the female form, and this positivism is evident on the Madonna cover Stay and the charmingly personal Love Comes in Waves. Though his heavy voice sounds almost too exposed in this starker instrumental context, his writing is as savage and sincere as ever.

Sleight of Heart is released on 3 March.

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December singles round-up

(Originally for The Skinny magazine

Part I – Indie.
Maxïmo Park switch down a gear from their usual breakneck post-punk for Karaoke Plays (***, 3 Dec), another razor-edged but same-y track from Our Earthly Pleasures. Next it’s down to Alan Partridge country with Norwich’s Bearsuit: Foxy Boxer (***, 3 Dec) is a bit of fun – nothing more, nothing less. A lesser known band from Sheffield, Arctic Monkeys‘ Teddy Picker (**, 3 Dec) finds Alex Turner as acerbic as ever, but could this mark the beginning of their uninteresting demise? They may be heirs to Turner’s crown, but The Enemy‘s We’ll Live And Die in These Towns (**, 3 Dec) is bare-faced plagiarism. Halfway through I had to stop myself reviewing a reissue of The Jam’s That’s Entertainment. Seriously. To continue the Arctic Monkeys theme (tenuously), Undercut‘s Hot in That (**, 10 Dec) is pitched somewhere between New Yorkshire and BRMC: scuzzy, catchy, but cumbersome. Original monkey man Ian Brown (pictured, of course) trumps them all with Sister Rose (****, 3 Dec). Not quite as tight as past glories, but with its sweeping strings and Bible-black guitar line it’s another swagger-some listen.

Part II – Singer-songwriter.
Jesse Malin‘s Tomorrow Tonight (**, 3 Dec) is all-American, full-fat folk-rock. His intended destination is Springsteen-like dusty wisdom, but he forgets to pack his subtlety … Sorry, did I nod off? Must have been Kate Walsh sending me into a stupor with the silky-smooth, cocoa-clutching Tonight (**, 3 Dec). Zzzz.

Part III – Christmas.
For the uninitiated, Shaun the Sheep is an Aardman animation from kid’s TV who has enlisted Vic Reeves to sing Life’s A Treat (***, 10 Dec), a woolly assault on the Christmas chart. Impossible to criticise, surely. Not strictly a festive song, but Hilli (****, 10 Dec) by Icelandic girl group amiina, who adapted music to Lee Hazlewood’s last ever recording, has the quality of velvet snow on some winter morning. Who’d have thought post-modernism had a place in the Christmas single? The Black Arts‘ Christmas Number One (****, 3 Dec) is the evidence – self-mocking, but glam, of course. But what better to warm your Scrooge heart this Noël than Malcolm Middleton‘s We’re All Going To Die (****, 17 Dec)? It’s officially a 500/1 shot (at the last count) for the Christmas top spot, so heed our advice: bet now, buy a few hundred on the seventeenth.

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Malcolm Middleton gets into the Christmas spirit

Last week I had a quick chat with Malcolm Middleton for The Skinny magazine. The former Arab Strap man lamented the demise of the Christmas single, and explained why he has chosen to revitalise the tradition with the strangely upbeat We’re All Going to Die. Here’s what he had to say…

“We’re All Going to Die is my favourite song off A Brighter Beat [Malcolm’s third solo album, released earlier this year] and I’d always really planned it to be the first song to come off it but that didn’t really happen. And then I wanted it to come out now but it got tied up with people at the record label saying it should be a Christmas song. To me it was a bit confusing at first but then I thought, ‘why the Hell not?’ It’s as good a time as any to think about mortality.

“I’m not sure if the Christmas single has lost its relevance or if it’s just nostalgia but I remember in the 80s I was always really excited about what songs were gonna get released at this time of year, and you always knew Slade were gonna release their song. But the last couple of years especially it’s just become an X-Factor thing and you
don’t look forward to the Christmas single anymore, and now Top of the Pops is dead too.

“Everyone knows how bad Christmas has become commercially, it’s beyond saturation. But there are still nice elements, like walking down the city centre in late December and seeing the decorations.

“The whole thing’s humourous. I’m not trying to release a song that’s too serious. The message is to forget the small stuff and don’t let it get on top of you, and remember what’s important.

“At the moment I’m in Mercury, the rehearsing studios in Glasgow, so there are like bands playing all over the place. We’re rehearsing for the Radio 1 thing now, just trying to think of ideas for an alternative Christmas session. It’s good they’re doing something a bit more leftfield instead of the usual blandness.

“It was 1000/1 [the longest ever odds for a Christmas single] and then someone called today and said it’s 500/1, as if that’s gonna make any difference. I’ve never been to a betting office before so I wouldn’t know what to do but I might try putting a bet on.

“To have the longest ever odds for the Christmas number one is good and bad: it’s good that it’s something that hasn’t happened before, but then I thought, ‘wait a minute, why is it the longest odds?’ It’s not your ordinary Christmas single but yeah it’s funny.

“I don’t see it making the chart at all but it’s all about having an option there for people and making a bit of an effort.”

We’re All Going to Die is released on 17 Dec. Malcolm Middleton will play an alternative Christmas session on the Colin Murray show on Radio 1 on the same day.

You can listen to the song on Malcolm’s myspace.

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