Mogwai – Rave Tapes

Posted: 22/01/2014 in Album Review
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Mogwai are old enough – and dare I say Glaswegian enough – to remember boyracers blaring out ‘rave tapes’ in the early 90s. Are we ready for one of the most left-field stylistic changes since The Horrors went krautrock? Sadly not. Although there is a remove from post-rock. An adjustment riddled with danger: instrumental rock. This can easily sound like you’ve fired the singer. Mogwai are of course too long in the tooth for any of that.

Much is spoken of Young Team as their masterpiece. To the point that its becoming an unsurpassable burden. Important as it is, it’s a figuring-out-our-sound record. The real deal was the uninterrupted run of quality from 99s Come On Die Young to 06s Mr Beast , were Mogwai established themselves as one of the most dependable bands out there. Later albums had commercial and critical success, but get a bit daytime TV at points. Can Rave Tapes rectify that?

Not quite. There is a reticence to veer far from the well trodden path, to the point where it feels like a retrospective – each track documenting a step on the way. Mogwai would never be crass enough to make a best off, but they have now made a contrivance of a compilation.

That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of ideas. The chopped up monologue on ‘Replenish’ features an American voice of politically undetermined origin, detailing that bogeyman of rock – the subliminal message. It’s difficult to determine the validity of the speech as it is so heavily edited. The opinion is not strong either way. This actually creates a conundrum that repays repeat listening. This fascination may well have expired on the 50th listen however, but at least there is a willingness to take risks. Apparently it is Reverent Lee Cohen. Feels slightly dubious. The voice sounds too young and dispassionate, and Cohen isn’t a name known for its Protestant leanings.

Keyboardist Barry Burns makes particular impact on Rave Tapes. From the undulating ‘Heard About You Last Night’ and synth meltdown of ‘Simon Ferocious’; to the John Carpenteresque ‘Remurdered’. Many artists have brazenly walked that road in recent years, few have actually updated it to modern idioms.

There’s a nod to The Cure on album highlight ‘No Medicine For Regret’. Which seems obvious really. Mogwai were always closer to the sound-for-its-own sake of shoegaze than the ostentatiousness of post-rock. A shared ideology of The Cure. Having said that ‘Heard About You Last Night’ features the woozy easy-listening guitar vibe of scene chin-scratchers Tortoise.

Pondering their back-catalogue has produced a sturdy set of songs. It isn’t going to disappoint anyone but isn’t going to enflame the passions either. Rave Tapes was made in a short space of time. This can focus an artist, or they can tread water. It’s been eight years since Mr Beast. Something very radical needs to happen or that is going down as Mogwai’s last true classic.


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