Thursday, 17 February 2011

Mogwai - Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will (Album Review 2011)

It is not every generation that a band can make albums with such regular and consistent quality, and sheer musicality, that it can bring you to tears. In 2003 post-rock quintet Mogwai began this quest for perfection with Happy Songs For Happy People, full of delicious melodies and swirling guitars – a distinct progression from their third album Rock Action some two years earlier. It took three more years for Mr Beast to arrive – a much harder, darker venture into the Mogwai psyche and the best album the band had made, until the follow-up The Hawk Is Howling went one better as a supreme blend of textured sounds and arrangements. The album remains a perfect example of how to make music.

So it is expected that Mogwai’s seventh full-length album Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will has to live up to such high standards. It is expected that by now the band understand what to do and deliver it perfectly. And it is expected that they make The Hawk Is Howling sound like the last McFly album. Ok not quite. What Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will does is reaffirm the concept that after making such a great trilogy of albums, shifting sideways is always a better option than slumping backwards. And importantly, remembering where it all began is just as crucial as smart self-awareness.

For the first fifteen minutes, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will delivers three five minute pieces that immediately satisfy. From the shimmering fuzzy guitars and jolly keyboards of White Noise through the robotic super-highway of Mexican Grand Prix to the grinding pulsating spectacular of Rano Pano, it is clear that this is Mogwai’s lighter side emerging from the moody seriousness of the last two albums. But things really take off with Death Rays, easily matching the beauty of Friend Of The Night and Kids Will Be Skeletons – in six minutes the song rises from quiet beginnings into an explosion of buzzing guitars, sky-reaching keyboards and crashing drums. This leads neatly into the positively poppy San Pedro, the closest thing Mogwai have to a three-minute radio-friendly masterpiece. Superb.

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will delivers a gorgeous piano-led ballad with Letters To The Metro recalling the delicately poised Kings Meadow. The guitar work, especially in the second half, is wonderfully controlled. George Square Thatcher Death Party, making the band’s political views very clear (or simply a well-crafted observation), takes things up a level fusing 80s Poll Tax angst synths and big-hair guitars with thumping drums and robotic vocals. The whole things sounds like Moby collaborating with Jean Michel Jarre on a Ben Elton biopic. But the album’s second highlight is the magnificent How To Be A Werewolf – blending delicate guitar-work with a sublime arrangement. At the halfway point, the music lifts and deepens but never gets too heavy or too complex. A second guitar layer is added to augment the sound, ending in a whirling squealing solo amid the relentless bass-driven percussion.

After a somewhat sedate and upbeat start, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will ends with two huge grinding guitar-led tracks. Too Raging To Cheers (possibly the most obscure Mogwai song title) is the first of two songs of two halves, all fragile keys, cymbals and exquisite strings in the first and then, after a brilliant mid-point, a lumbering behemoth of an ending. This is a great prelude to closer You’re Lionel Richie (another intriguing title) which again starts as an elegant ambient guitar piece and the best guitars on the album for the first four minutes. A second half pounds and grinds like industrial machinery fighting to be heard over stampeding buffalo in a chainsaw testing factory. A satisfying finale to one of the most varied Mogwai albums. For the chosen few, Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will closes with probably the most ambitious single piece of music Mogwai have made. Music For A Forgotten Future is a twenty-three minute soundtrack for Scottish artist Douglas Gordon, the band’s second after Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait in 2006, and a great addition to the album.

Mogwai continue to do what they do so well and with such consistent superiority not by keeping it simple, that would be belittling the complexity and intricacy of their music, but by having a plan and sticking to it. They know exactly what they want from an album and how to convert thoughts and ideas into great art. Composition is a delicate balance of conception, realisation and execution. The band is getting better with age; more focus, more careful consideration of when to explode and when to settle, and more life to draw upon. Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will is full of floating liberation and freedom one minute and delicious twisted constraint and restriction the next. It is not a complete triumph or a crushing disappointment but instead completes a circle started ten years ago, pulling in all the knowledge and experience and lessons learned from a glorious decade of music.

No comments: