Ahead of the release of second album The Most Important Place In The World singer Aidan Moffat talked about how the record was “a song for the city and the secrets she hides” and while the subject of urban living is explored in greater depth than before it also successfully reprises and extends themes established on debut album Everything’s Getting Older.
Arguably, the most noticeable progression on The Most Important Place In The World manifests itself musically, namely in the broader range of styles and sounds that are incorporated into the album. On first impression it is these musically distinct tracks that stand out. A ritualistic, Wicker Man darkness runs through Lock Up Your Lambs, all squalling brass, distorted vocals and dense, opaque drumming.
Conversely, a much more expansive sound is achieved on Street Pastor Colloquy, 3AM – the inclusion of a choir, strings and brass seemingly having a positive effect on Moffat who sings with an enhanced freedom and openness (the lyrics may on the surface cover the shortcomings of religion but in time-honoured fashion he eventually turns the focus back on to himself to reveal some of his own weaknesses). The Eleven Year Glitch ventures into uplifting electronic -pop territory meanwhile with Moffat analysing the contributing factors and decision making processes involved in failed relationships (“just be sure before you pull the trigger”). It’s also something of a rarity – a Wells/Moffat song likely to elicit moves towards dancing.
Elsewhere however it is the established piano backdrops of Bill Wells that accompany Moffat’s vocals. One such piano line ushers in On The Motorway allowing Moffat to lay down some of the key lyrical themes that follow – parenthood, human desire, the city, sex. This Dark Desire and The Tangle Of Us may not be as immediately placeable and specific when compared to some of the other tracks but soon begin to attract more interest for this very reason. The latter shows how expert Wells has become at creating such simple and effective melodies for Moffat’s storylines to play out to. A beautiful, downcast sincerity is evident on Far From You, rivalling previous emotional highpoint The Copper Top in terms of sheer poignancy.
Yet, it is the tracks that see Moffat excelling lyrically that ultimately contribute most to the album’s success. Any Other Mirror shows he can still do self-loathing better than most (at various times referring to himself as a useless prick, ugly, old, thick, awkward, fat, grey, stupid, worn and shy). Yet, the withering way he delivers the lines seems to show he’s not taking them too seriously – understandable in some ways given he’s now in his twentieth year of delivering such lyrics. A subdued, exhausted sense of domesticity is also present in the references to unwashed dishes, filthy highchairs and outstanding household chores.
The Unseen Man shows he’s still adept at depicting insalubrious nocturnal city scenes in confrontational fashion (complete with sirens ringing in the distance). Vanilla arguably sees him on his strongest lyrical ground – a sexual liaison forensically broken down and retold as a fatigued, life-as-routine narrative as a louche jazz soundtrack plays out in the background. Closing track We’re Still Here eloquently articulates a tale of human survival amidst urban degeneration (as well as featuring the memorable rhyming of ‘diarrhoea’ and ‘pizzeria’). It may not quite reach some of the highs (or lows) of its predecessor but it more than compensates in both its consistency and variety. It offers proof that stories of stagnation and decline in everyday life can still conversely inspire music of great value and beauty.