October 3, 2022

Mogwai – Happy Songs For Happy People – (Rock Action)

Let’s hear it for Mogwai.

(Let me put that another way)

Let’s hear it for Mogwai.

(One more time)


If I had the ear (sorry) of this fab five-piece, I’d be inclined to say OK, enough already with the noise terrorism – been there, done that, now let’s get on with the music thang.

Because, in truth, Mogwai’s musicianship has never been in question (well, let’s skip lightly past the strange aberration that was Rock Action): there are, for instance, very few bands about who use a guitarist’s skill at playing exquisitely delicate harmonics as effectively as Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite. However, they do have this reputation – reinforced by the growing incidence of tinnitus in hardcore fans – of coming on a bit ear-bleedingly strong in live performance, so they’re clearly committed to the noise thang.

The defining Mogwai track, prior to this release, was ‘Ex Cowboy’ from the third, 1999 album – Come On Die Young. This was a thrilling nine-minute journey from a lonely guitar gently weeping to the sonic equivalent of Munch’s Scream – and back. That was noise harnessed to intent. At its peak, it summoned that first childish brush with mortality – how close to the roaring waterfall, the screeching train, the wailing dynamo, dared you approach before having to run back, terrified. ‘Ratts of The Capital’ (track 6 of Happy Songs…) performs a similar function: this is the baleful anthem of the Pied Piper of Hamlyn (the Plaid Pipers of Glasgow?) herding we mesmerised rat-children on that terrifying one-way trip.

What Mogwai most definitely can’t do – and should really stop trying – is lyrics – neither write ’em nor sing ’em: ‘Boring Machines Disturbs Sleep’ (sic) – the only weak track in an otherwise very strong collection – opens with what seems to be a deliberate nod at Sigur Rós – with the same e-bow intro as ‘njósnavelín’ (the nothing song) – but this only draws our attention to the huge difference – to the fact that, rather than being seduced by Jónsi’s angelic Hopelandic, this song drops us bathetically into what appears to be a grumbling dirge about ‘roast potatoes’ or something. Poo. Stinker. (Almost as bad as that catastrophic misjudgement – ‘Dial: Revenge’ – otherwise remembered as the Welsh Whimsy – in Rock Action.)

The outstanding jewel – the veritable koh-i-noor in this Happy Crown, however, is ‘I Know You Are But What Am I?’ (track 8). Whereas ‘Ratts..’ and ‘Stop Coming To My House’ succeed – superbly – in that build-from-nothing-to-the-wall-of-sound-and-back way that Godspeed You! and Sigur Rós also exploit so distinctively, ‘I Know’ ventures into quite new territory – a self-reflective land that includes a more mature touch of paradox and complexity to the sonic topography – and it’s awesome! Delicately, it seems to unfold from a softly repeated D on piano into a modest blossom of breathtaking fragility and beauty that just – breathes – for a while – far too short a while…

Way to go, Mogwai. But hey – let’s hear it, yeah?