Fear of love. Love of fear would be phobophilia.

To be up front about it, if you are getting your dick or cunt sucked regularily, you will hardly be able to appreciate Arab Strap's remarkable sophomore record Philophobia to the extent that your average pole stroker will. That's really the only way to put it. If you're still with me on this, though, read on.

As one might be able to suss from the title, this isn't a summer record that you spin up to make out to. The people depicted in its songs are rife with the virtues of jealousy, infidelity, addiction, deceit, and drunkenness. The opening line, "It was the biggest cock you've ever seen, but you've no idea where that cock has been," slurred out in the opening seconds by Aidan Moffat with minimal musical accompaniment, isn't the hardest hit: it's just the opening sucker punch, thrown to set you on edge for the next sixty-six minutes of your life. Even the cover is a little unsettling: the back depicts a very plain naked man sitting in a reclined indian style; the front, a similarly reclined and equally ordinary and disrobed woman. So, considering the album title, the album art, and the opening line, you should know what you're in for.

Luckily, this happens to be one of the finest bitter love albums of our time. The music making half of Arab Strap, one Malcolm Middleton, has much more to do on this record than on The Week Never Starts Round Here. The tunes hover between the folky, acoustic elements of Week Never Starts and the listless ambience, the preprogrammed bass beats of Elephant Shoe, delving at times into Mogwai-esque bouts of wailing distorted guitar. In fact, musically, this is the Strap's most diverse album. Soaps introduces a Hammond and violin, reminicent of the more soulful moments of Nick Cave's The Boatman's Call. The Night Before The Funeral sneaks in a jazzy little trumpet riff in the second half that should seem out of place, but is mixed so well, I have no idea what else would seem right in its place. Longer cuts like Piglet, New Birds, and I Would've Liked Me a Lot have such a natural and well timed progression to them, full of an intensity that grips and strangles your lovelorn heart.

Arab Strap's real strength, however, has always been Aidan Moffat's lyrical prowess communicated through the best piss of an inebriated hum since Shane MacGowan. A good deal of the words on this record have the potential to become anthems of the dejected. Moffat pulls no punches, kids, and he takes no prisoners. He's one of the most honest lyricists around -- almost to the point of shamelessness -- and these thirteen stories-in-song are brutal enough to make a porn star flinch. Moffat's out for blood here, and you can be sure he'll get it: the song Afterwards contains perhaps the most cynical turn on modern relationships I've heard in ages, something to the tune of "I know that we're a couple now 'cause we went down the Family Planning. It hit me in the waiting room when you were getting what you need, but I can't help be a bit disappointed when you start to bleed."

If you're looking for something airy and pleasant, Arab Strap will put you off and you'll hate 'em for far longer than you should. This record is refuge, though, for the melacholy and the moody, the jealous and the jilted. Simply put, this album will gather dust on your shelf until that very special break-up, the one that cracks you into pieces and throws your heart to the dogs. This is the best of drinking buddies, but only when you've got dinner for one and vodka for five. Philophobia is a shoulder to cry on, one last toss in the sack with an old lover, and a brick through the windscreen of her new boyfriend all rolled into one.

Track list:
  1. Packs of Three
  2. Soaps
  3. Here We Go
  4. New Birds
  5. One Day, After School
  6. Islands
  7. The Night Before The Funeral
  8. Not Quite a Yes
  9. Piglet
  10. Afterwards
  11. My Favorite Muse
  12. I Would've Liked Me a Lot
  13. The First Time You're Unfaithful

© 1998 Chemikal Underground, released in the United States on Matador. All songs unpublished.

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