With passing traffic as ambience and a ticking car indicator as percussion, ‘On The Motorway’ sees Adrian Moffat submit to the advances of the city and all of her perfumed promises. He disregards the message on a lorry’s canvas, that “home is the most important place in the world”. For him, home is where the heart sinks into a dirty sofa and resigns itself to the rest of its banal and routine life, same as everyone. But he can push all that aside, all the checklist expectations of middle age. He doesn’t have to settle like the biscuit crumbs in his kid’s juice if he validates himself with the frivolities of a night in the metropolis, throwing caution to the wind and then pissing in it.
It doesn’t take long for the evidence to mount that the most important place in the world is wherever Moffat’s not. He teeters from doting family man to challenged alpha-male, and finds himself consistently misled by the adverts for each. His wants and needs spar in a caged ring because he only knows to pit them against one another, and when the wants win, they change their name to needs. And all of the indecision is handled with black humour and Moffat’s licorice voice atop Bill Wells’ equally indecisive accompaniments; the former skulks from monotone drawl to tankard-swaying shanty, and the latter flits from soft, noir piano chords to whippet-heartbeat frenzy in the blink of a bloodshot eye.
Our narrator does what he can to justify the night-long migrations into the beaten-up streets. On ‘VHS-C’ he likens the raunchy content to being as obsolete as the cassette where it resides: “Will we buy an old machine to see what can’t be seen, or just let ourselves forget the best of all we’ve been?” Straight away, his almost-whisper and the fondled piano face the consequences on ‘Lock Up Your Lambs’ – now he growls atop startling horns and the tremors of bellowing drums, and the self-loathing spits “sign your name in the blood of the lamb, take a look in the glass at the man you am.”And then, like any forlorn drunkard, he’ll stagger back to the comforts of home, because now they appeal to him again. ‘Any Other Mirror’ combs its hair and smartens up, wearing an apologetic smile and attempting the smooth charm of Burt Bacharach, only swapping out love-declaration for self-deprecation: “I might be a useless prick, but I feel ugly, old and thick in any other mirror but you.”
What’s abundantly clear is that the cycle continues, and it’s as metronomic as that car indicator. ‘The Unseen Man’ unloads vicious vitriol at the ‘babyfaced boys’ who’ve stolen the female gaze, and he looks at himself from their eyes: “You’re just another fat, drunk dad in trainers, who likes a pint and hates buying clothes – but better grey hair than nae hair!” At this point, he’s embracing his age because he holds such contempt for the overtaking generation. But the booze wears off like it always does. ‘Far From You’ is stripped back to the duo of Scottish drawl and tired piano, and following all of the shouting matches and drug abuse and denial, it feels like the most candid track even if we suspect it isn’t. “I’m grey and tired, and uninspired, when I’m far from you.”
As usual, the focus shifts back to the city and all of its haunts – only this time, Moffat reels off and runs down the extinguished establishments, each death summarised as a pun like a bag-eyed Spike Milligan poem written after dark:“They used to sell cool trainers but their custom ran away, the travel agent’s taken an extended holiday, even the old job centre now seeks a new career, the greengrocer decayed and spoiled but we’re still here.” That repeated final phrase and the introduction of rousing strings would relay a sentiment of weathered hope, that where the city has succumbed to itself we have persevered – were it not for a ticking, this time a clock, that plays the record out. We’re still here, surviving out of spite not spirit, like the guilt and bad smell we got used to.