Albums of the Year 2011: #8
Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Mogwai have been (and probably always will be) a favourite of mine: five normal guys with terrific senses of humour playing intense (in terms of both sonics and emotions) music. They also hold the distinction of being the band whose album I have paid the most for ($40+tax for an import copy of Young Team), but I won't hold that against them here. Based on what I know about Scotland, it must just ooze melancholy--and I have to admit, as thrilling as "Like Herod," "My Father My King," "Glasgow Mega Snake," and "Batcat" are, it's Mogwai's melancholy that I've found to be their most appealing quality (cf. "Tracy," Come on Die Young, "Stanley Kubrick," "I Chose Horses," and "I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead"*). If you're like me, Hardcore delivers in spades, with the excellent "Letters to the Metro" and "Too Raging to Cheers" (in a discography littered with great song titles, this is truly one of the best). It also offers "Death Rays," which is melancholic and the most Mogwai-sounding song here, and, in its very adherence to Mogwai's traditional strengths, points out why the rest of the album (barring "White Noise," a passable but largely anonymous number) is so superior to it: Hardcore is Mogwai poking around in largely forgotten or un(der)explored areas of their sound.
I've written a great deal about Mogwai, my relationship to their music, and my reaction to this album, but it bears repeating: this is the album I needed Mogwai to make without even realizing I wanted it. The Hawk Is Howling has its moments, but I was kind of bored of Mogwai instrumental epics. Hardcore is, starting with "Mexican Grand Prix," a genuine surprise, and a largely pleasant one at that. Even the seeming throwaway "George Square Thatcher Death Party" is more enjoyable than the last album's stab at a radical departure, "The Sun Smells too Loud." Part of the joy is that through the first half of the album, the band offers something like their version of Mogwai-Pop (what is "San Pedro" but "Glasgow Mega Snake" or "Batcat" with the distortion dialed back and the hooks dialed way up?) and it works brilliantly (this is also what makes "Death Rays" such a misstep, in my opinion). Not to be outdone, the back half reminds listeners that very few bands do "sad" quite as prettily as Mogwai do, and then, to continue the embarrassment of riches, outdoes all of those epics on The Hawk Is Howling with their best straight guitar songs since Come on Die Young. "How to be a Werewolf" is everything I fell in love with the first time I heard Mogwai with a truly ecstatic guitar solo as its climax, and "You're Lionel Richie" makes a split EP with Earth (who released a pretty decent album this year, too) seem like the best idea on the planet.** It's unlikely that Hardcore will change anyone's mind about Mogwai, and I can understand why some people would offer rather tepid reviews and write the album off as more of the same, but for me, Hardcore was a minor revelation.
*That comma splice kills me. I love the title and hate it all at the same time (and I am really not a grammar pedant--as a quick read through of this blog will probably make clear).
**"You're Lionel Richie" also offers a pretty great use of movie (?) dialogue, which is a cliche with this kind of music, but that feels earned and that works here.