The Surprise Number-One Success Of Mogwai
Has Mogwai Moved Closer To The World Or Vice Versa?
The surprise number-one success of Scottish band Mogwai’s latest album, As The Love Continues, raises some questions, but maybe none more pertinent than this: have Mogwai moved closer to the world, or has the world moved closer to Mogwai?
Their debut album, Mogwai Young Team (1997), peaked at number 75 in the UK charts just a few months after Tony Blair’s New Labour seized power with its new masculinity, new meritocracy, new everything – a Team-UK shininess, brashness and pre-Iraq-War confidence reflected in sobriquets such as Britpop and Cool Britannia (Be Here Now by Oasis and Spiceworld by the Spice Girls were the bestselling UK albums of that year).
But 1997 also doffed its coffin lid to 18 years of enervating Tory rule in which Mogwai’s home city of Glasgow had been ridden by the UK government into managed decline, its industry gutted, its life expectancy ranking persistently the lowest in the UK and among the lowest in Europe. Optimism? Brashness? Well, no, not just for the sake of it.
Mogwai’s blueprint differed from the polished post-rock of many of the bands (Sigur Rós, Godspeed You! Black Emperor) with whom they were originally compared – they were, and are, more accurately an epic alternative rock band playing mostly without a singer (very few Mogwai songs have vocals), their quiet-loud dynamic elevated to a genuine art form, their music spraying woodchips of frustration, anger, chutzpah, contemplation and – in the most authentic, hard-won way – euphoria.
Apart from increasingly successful studio albums (2014’s Rave Tapes and 2017’s Every Country’s Sun reached the UK Top Ten), the last quarter-century has seen them record scores for TV shows (Les Revenants, 2012–2015), documentaries (Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, 2006; Atomic, Living in Dread and Promise, 2015), and film (Kin, 2018).
As live albums and festival appearances attest, their musicianship and international appeal goes way beyond the studio wallsAs live albums and festival appearances attest, their musicianship and international appeal goes way beyond the studio walls, with what they lack in well-honed stage banter made up for in sheer aural awesomeness – guitars, drums, electronica and keys commingling, rising and overwhelming with sounds so delicate, ferocious and intertwined they’re almost impossible to trace back to their originating amps.
As The Love Continues is deep, dark and cohesive, from its warm, bassy foothills to its electronica-infused peaks. Transcendence, solace – these come as glorious breaks in the clouds.
As Pitchfork put it, these are “mountainous songs suffused in nameless sadness” – a new range, so to speak, but not a new direction.
Talking to The Guardian, frontman Stuart Braithwaite described the album’s success as “totally surreal, completely unexpected. At no one point ever has anyone even working with us said we’re going to have a No 1 album – it’s not the kind of thing that enters into our orbit.”
Until now, of course. As the world labours through a health crisis, economies crater, and political and social optimism is, to put it mildly, scarce, we have all entered into Mogwai’s orbit, and they ours.
As the Love Continues by Mogwai (Rough Trade) is available now.