Review Summary: Hardcore may never die, but Mogwai's mortality has never been more evident.
The anger seen in Mogwai's youth may just be the reason for their status as one of post-rock’s most celebrated bands, one of the genre’s top dogs. Their debut album, Young Team
, the album that got them and still gets them mounds of praise, attention and new followers, that was an album born from contempt and hatred. Not that that's any secret. The band themselves claimed it to be their worst album, created amongst the turbulent midst of arguments and fist-fights between themselves. In the end it threatened both their relationships with one another and the album that was to be their make-or-break opening statement. But what if it was that, in the heat of these disputes, inspiration erupted? What if those sparks of creativity and originality were spat out by the intense, almost destructive friction between band members? It’s a heat that certainly hasn’t been seen since, and has crept quietly out of the band with each succeeding album. Maybe I’m selfish, but sometimes I wish I could slip a whoopee cushion under Stuart’s chair and blame it on Dom just to get things fired up again.
Thus, with five albums between Young Team
and Hardcore Will Never Die
, you could be forgiven for predicting a soullessly agreeable affair which ticks all the right post-rock boxes but still comes away sounding disenchanted and limp. And yet no one ever predicts it. Well, at the least they never want to. Myself included. We hope for the resurgence of catharsis and charisma, of immersion and intensity. But what do we get? Another ladling of cold, unsatisfying, glazed-over and over-glazed disappointments. What’s more, and this is a relatively new frustration, Hardcore Will Never Die
is hard to enjoy even at a basic level because it appears that Mogwai are now playing behind a wall of glass. It’s not that it’s post-rock-by-numbers, although at times it really is, but more so that it doesn’t even sound like there are painters behind the palette. Lack of vocals are both a challenge and an opportunity to post-rock bands; it’s harder to project a personality onto music without the directness and identifiableness of a human voice and his words, but great post rock can transcend that reliance on vocals if they can trace their inspiration and humanity into the music. This deeply personal sound doubles as a comforting refuge when the same human voice becomes an irritable twang. But it does have to be deeply personal, and inspired: that’s where the warmth naturally rouses from. Hardcore
, for the most part, sounds like it was recorded by men thinking about what to add to their shopping lists. What’s exposed is not the painful core of individuality, only the thin film of distraction.
It’s not all bad. There all little pieces here and there that might elicit a smile, and there’s no doubting the second half is stronger than the first. ‘Too Raging to Cheers’ doesn’t exactly reach the raging heights its title sets out for itself, but there is a methodical bludgeoning of instruments towards the end of the track that make you wonder whether the ‘raging’ on show is directed towards their own disappointments. It works, in a weird self-inflicted kind of way. ‘You’re Lionel Richie’ is probably the highlight and is well placed at the end of the record, leaving hope of better things to come. It has that spine-tingling ‘Like Herod’ atmosphere of brutally wait-for-it-wait-for-it
suspense, but also, in the swathes of moaning ambience behind the battered instruments, that human touch of frustration amongst longing. Ultimately, though, when tracks like ‘Death Rays’ are ceremonious when they have nothing of worth to celebrate, and singles like ‘Rano Pano’ plod along with all the pace and thrill of a policeman’s pushbike, and songs like ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ are about as exciting as the Grand Prix itself, the highlights are overshadowed and you have to start seeing Mogwai for what they’ve sadly become: no longer angry, inspired, and destined for great things but arrogant, impersonal, and deluded... and increasingly disappointing.