WE JOIN Malcolm Middleton as he autographs copies of his new album, Summer of ’13. It’s the former Arab Strap guitarist’s first official solo LP since 2009's Waxing Gibbous, and he’s marking its release with a biro frenzy. “I actually think it's harder to get one of my albums unsigned these days,” he deadpans, downing tools. “They’ve got to be rarer. And they probably have more value.”

Contrary to his assertion, many of us would pay over the odds to have Middleton’s scrawl bedecking our vinyl, but you can’t blame him if he’s weary of writing: last time we met, the songwriter was engaged in a similar practice for the hand-signed Music and Words LP, his 2014 collaboration with artist David Shrigley.

That album fell between two offerings from Middleton’s (largely) instrumental 80s alter-ego, Human Don’t Be Angry, which saw him shortlisted for 2013’s Scottish Album of the Year (SAY) Award. The skewed-pop influences of Music and Words and Human Don’t Be Angry can be discerned throughout Summer of ’13, (as can his 2009 EP, Girl Band Pop Song), but this is still vintage solo Malcolm Middleton, albeit with surprises.

“If you hadn't heard everything I’ve been doing since Waxing Gibbous – if you hadn’t heard Human Don’t Be Angry, or the stuff I did with David Shrigley – then maybe this is a bit of a departure,” Middleton ventures. “But even on Waxing Gibbous, the song Zero had a rap in it, and it was quite poppy. I think there are some people who’re not happy with that though, who still want to hear miserable, downbeat songs, the more kind of folky thing,” he muses. “But I think that if you like what's gone before, you should like this too – it's not too far from the patch, it's just a bit fresher.”

It’s also pleasingly replete with Middleton’s droll lyrical idiom, from the phonetic trickery of Balearic synth anthem You and I (which sounds wryly akin to “you and die”), to the tentative 80s euphoria of Steps (“I even regret having regrets”).

Steps opens the album, and barely draws breath before invoking Sugababes, Gary Numan, Moby and Men Without Hats, and the rest of the record is similarly shot through with pop thrills – Kraftwerk and Jan Hammer here (Little Hurricane); Paul Young and Schneider TM there (Big Black Hole). If this is testament to Middleton’s insatiable drive-pop heart, then it’s also to the credit of electro livewire Julian Corrie, aka Miaoux Miaoux, who produced the album.

“Julian’s got a tasteful pop sensibility, which helped, because he basically took a lot of my rubbish and tactfully said, this is a bit cheesy,” Middleton says of Corrie’s pop alchemy. “But sometimes I had to put my foot down and say, it needs to be cheesy. That's why I'm doing it. The production can be a bit ironic – sometimes, that's what I'm aiming for.”

At what stage did he recruit Corrie for production duties? “I'd been working on the record for maybe five years, just in between doing Human Don’t Be Angry and the Shrigley stuff – it wasn’t a rush,” says Middleton. “But at the beginning of last year, I realised I had a bunch of songs that were good, and when I compiled them I thought, I’ve got a record here. But I had no idea how to finish it. So I put it out there and asked Julian. I was amazed when he said yes.”

Corrie and Middleton make for an inspired tag-team, especially on gorgeous electro-pop reverie Brackets, and kosmische lullaby Little Hurricane. “That was originally a live band song, and then Julian made the first half into that driving thing, with the drum beat and all these synths,” Middleton offers. “And Brackets used to be a full-band indie romp, but I said to him, look, I think there's a good song in there, but it's not there yet – so, what can you do? And he kept the vocals. That was it. Everything else was changed – the music, the chords. That's Martin Henry [De Rosa] doing backing vocals on it, I think Julian did some too. That's the song he had most of his mark on.”

The album also features the Beta Band’s Gordon Anderson (alias The Lone Pigeon), but there’s no doubting that this is a Middleton solo album – even if you chance upon one of the rare copies he hasn’t signed; even though he tries to obscure his identity by pitching his vocals up and down throughout the album. “Yeah, I’ve done that before, with Into the Woods – it’s like putting on a mask,” he nods.

“Sometimes I want to make a song, but I don't want to be its focal point. Especially on Information in the Voice – I wanted it to be bland; I wanted it to be a bit faceless. I was trying to sing without putting too much tone in the words.”

Summer of ’13 is similarly disorientating – a sublime, nostalgic trip, whose myriad disembodied voices circle each other and variously invoke the ghosts of bagpipes and Big Country. It’s an epic centre-piece for an album whose title conjures Bryan Adams, the Second Summer of Love (acid house, Danny Wilson), and superstition. “Yeah, that's all in there,” Middleton concludes, getting back to his drawing board. “All those things must have been in my head somewhere, even unconsciously – from the Summer of ’69, to Friday the 13th.” Lucky for us.

Malcolm Middleton plays Glasgow Art School tonight and Edinburgh Electric Circus tomorrow. Summer of ’13 is out today on Nude.