...An essential companion to A Brighter Beat.
Chris Long 2008-02-29
If it's difficult enough to believe that anyone could make an album that centred around the brevity of life and the endless nothingness of death sound intoxicatingly wonderful, then it's going to stretch the imagination to breaking point that the same person could release a sister collection that's just as brutally honest and just as brilliant.
But that is exactly what Malcolm Middleton has done. Originally conceived as a mini album that would polish off what he cheerfully refers to as his ''boo hoo/way hey! period'' and collect up the remains of the Brighter Beat sessions, Sleight Of Heart has grown, with that inevitability that underpins all of Malcolm's work, into something much more important.
Stripping the lushness of A Brighter Beat away, Sleight Of Heart is his return to a sparser sound, built mostly around his acoustic guitar and sprinkled with nothing more than the most necessary augmentations – some drums, a smattering of piano, the occasional banjo – to reveal an aural yin to A Brighter Beat's yang.
Split between six original songs and three covers, it is, to use Malcy's own phrase, a little more 'way hey' than 'boo hoo', offering a new perspective on his often dour view of the world.
Yes, love is described as being like both ''rain in Glasgow'' and ''a car with a cracked window shield'' in the epically honest Love Comes In Waves, but when the value of staying in is weighed through the results of a trip to the off licence in Blue Plastic Bags or the desperate lot of the songwriter summed up in Week Off with the simple write a good song, just give me more time it is done with a knowing smile.
That affectionate approach is continued in the three cover versions. King Creosote's Marguerita Red gets a straight up and down reworking that shows Middleton's faithful love for his fellow Scot's work, while his take on Jackson C. Frank's Just Like Anything is equally loving.
It's Madonna's Stay that gets the real overhaul. It is rendered almost unrecognisable as the '80s beat is drained out and the song is filled up with Middleton's sense of ordinary drama – a process which brings out the desperation and fear of the original lyrics.
It all adds up to a collection which is enjoyable and – at least in terms of Malcolm Middleton – optimistic, and an essential companion to A Brighter Beat. After all, you can't fully appreciate yin without yang, can you?