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Mogwai | Rock Action (Southpaw/PIAS)
Odd that this should turn up packaged with the latest from Pernice Brothers - it was on the same stage, one Camden Powerhaus night that I first saw Mogwai, as unlikely a support act to Joe Pernice's Scud Mountain Boys as could be imagined. These were the days of Mogwai's first ventures onto vinyl and there's was a dynamic I had rarely witnessed. Amazingly the evening worked beautifully, the Scud Mt. Boys the perfect calming antidote to the tornado that had swept the stage clean before them. The Ten Rapid collection that brought together those early 7"s remains my favourite Mogwai record. Devoid of the muddled production of their debut 'proper' Mogwai Young Team, it fairly sparks with intent and invention, a rollercoaster of a record, seemingly driven by a surge of hormonal creativity. The ups and the downs of Ten Rapid still excite. All it took was one shambolic appearance at London's Garage to all but kill-off my memories of that first meeting. Gone was the nervous intensity and, in its place, yet another beer-fuelled slog and tired on-stage antics - Brendan O'Hare running around the stage waving some intoxicating substance under the noses of the band...and was it him or Arab Strap's Aidan Moffat who swapped saliva with Stuart mid-song? And does any of it matter when the music was falling apart? Anyhow, maybe it's my age but then, as with much of Rock Action, the thrill is gone. Sine Wave which opens the album has that modern horror movie soundtrack feel, but where we once might have giggled nervously from behind a spit-sodden cushion we now grin from the altogether safer distance of approaching middle age. This short, eight-track album covers all the ground you'd expect from Mogwai, You Don't Know Jesus is struck from their long-serving template, as is the short Robot Chant that follows. It's on the slower, prettier songs where any sense of purpose and direction lie. Take Me Somewhere Nice features Stuart Braithwaite's vocals (a credited but inaudible David Pajo apparently supplies backup) and what they lack in originality (let's face it, this could be me singing, which means anyone) at least they add some much needed texture and colour. The piano here is particularly beautiful as it is on the closing Secret Pint which begins promisingly but relies heavily on the tried and trusted formula of repetition. With a guest vocal from SFA's Gruff Rhys on the folk-chant acoustic-led Dial: Revenge it soon becomes clear that what appears on the surface to be a multi-faceted record amounts to little more than varying shades of wallpaper.

Matt Dornan
June-July 2001

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