Thursday, February 24, 2011

review- mogwai- 'hardcore will never die, but you will'

Mogwai- ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, but you Will’

Let me preface this entry by saying that this is the first time I’ve ever been disappointed by a Mogwai record. A lot of people have criticized the combination of ‘Mr. Beast’ and ‘The Hawk is Howling’ as basically being the same album. I could see this point- if you listen to a playlist constructed from each track side by side the two albums’ respective tracklists were put together in an identical way- ‘Auto-Rock’ and ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead,’ then ‘Glasgow Megasnake’ and ‘Batcat’ and so on and so forth. The similarities are undeniable, but to me the two albums are coming from a different enough place that the similarities to me are moot. In my mind ‘Mr. Beast’ is ‘Young Team’ to ‘The Hawk is Howling’s ‘Come on Die Young.’ The first two proper Mogwai releases were mining very similar territory as well, but few were brash enough to call ‘foul’ for that. It was for this reason that before I heard ‘Rock Action’ I was concerned that Mogwai would become a one-trick pony. They certainly could’ve and gone on to plenty of acclaim, acceptance and fortune (i.e. Explosions in the Sky or Sigur Rós), but they didn’t- ‘Rock Action,’ while definitely sagging in the middle from uneven-ness, pushed the band’s signature sound effortlessly into unexplored and rich territory. ‘Happy Songs for Happy People’ did this again, but more effortlessly and ‘Mr. Beast’ and ‘The Hawk is Howling’ continued to satisfy while fulfilling further mining of new ground (I’m sorry, but ‘The Sun Smells Too Loud’ is unlike anything that the band had ever attempted before and was executed with an aplomb and passion that few bands as far into their careers are capable of). ‘Special Moves’ pushed my undying devotion for Mogwai to unimagined heights. They could even pull off something as tired, risky and oftentimes pointless as a live record. It actually CAPTURED the visceral experience of witnessing them live (something I’d always assumed would be impossible)- it seemed like Mogwai could do no wrong. Then my friend from work walked in one day and handed me a copy of ‘Hardcore Will Never Die, but you Will’ (a record I was excited to death about hearing) and said, ‘I don’t know about this one- it’s awfully poppy.’

I’ve only attempted two listens so far. I had already heard ‘Rano Pano’ before- I remember feeling concerned when it ended up being the most lackluster 45 I’d picked up in a long time. ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ to me is the biggest offender- while I wasn’t wild about hearing Mogwai attempt a Kraftwerk/Stereolab-type song I was beginning to get with it until that most obnoxious vocoder started in. I actually find its presence on ‘Hunted by a Freak’ and ‘I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead’ perfectly valid as a textural choice that added something to the proceedings. Here it just seemed hackneyed, pointless and irritating. From there ‘Rano Pano’ sounds like the idiotic younger sibling of ‘Glasgow Megasnake’ and ‘Batcat’ and in the rest I found little to distinguish from one track to the next until the final three tracks- which is the only part of the album that I feel is worth the time spent listening to it. They’re all so good that it almost punctuates my disappointment with the album as a whole as it seems evidence to me of what they COULD’VE done on the rest of the album if they hadn’t been busy cooking up something sunnier and poppier sounding. 'How to Be a Werewolf' even has the pop-leanings of the earlier tracks, but manages to pull them off without sounding labored-over and contrived. I don’t even have an objection to their poppier side- ‘The Sun Smells too Loud’ is one of my favourites on ‘The Hawk is Howling’- here it just sounds like a band playing up to a forced idea of what they should be doing. They've always managed to sound invigorated, passionate and serious about what they were doing, but that spark seems to be missing for much of the beginning part of the record. The plethora of positive reviews are truly baffling to me. I will continue to listen to the record on the off chance that I warm up to it, but it just seems to me to reek of half-heartedness and has all the trappings of a forced artistic about-face.

Even with all of this being as it is I find it difficult to be too hard on them- they did have an amazing seven album run (eight if you count ‘Special Moves’) and that’s nothing to sneeze at. That said I’m probably not going to shell out $27 to see them at the Metro in April. There are too many other shows coming through town that month that I’m more excited to see.

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