17 years on from the wall-of-guitar tensions of the raw debut, Young Team, the band is now approaching middle age, and beyond the soundtrack stuff, there’s perhaps been a sense of stagnation about its most recent work. I think Mogwai peaked around a decade ago, with the Happy Songs For Happy People album being a highpoint in terms of my own personal appreciation. And although the more recent The Hawk Is Howling had some fine moments too (not least ‘Scotland’s Shame’), I’ve struggled to remain committed to a band that more or less sounds the same on each new release.
But Rave Tapes offers something more. Plus there’s a little more of the same old same old, for those hardcore fans. The vast majority of Mogwai’s best moments have come on what might be called “instrumental” tracks and once again Rave Tapes doesn’t deviate too far from that formula, with seven out of the album’s ten tracks containing no vocals at all.
But where guitar might once have been the most prominent feature of the band’s signature sound, Rave Tapes finds Mogwai experimenting a little more with electronic stuff – keyboards, old synth noodlings, and the tension in the music this time stems from its bass-driven pulse, not the cascading guitars of the past. Album stand-out ‘Remurdered’ is probably the most obvious example of that shift in focus.
Of course there’s still a lot of guitar, Rave Tapes wouldn’t be a Mogwai album without it, it’s just that it works as peripheral support this time out, rather than providing a lead role.
‘Repelish’ is the first of the tracks to feature vocals, and even at that they’re sampled, as our narrator discusses classic rock, Led Zep’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’, and subliminal connections to “Satan”. ‘Blues Hour’, the second track with vocals, is largely a non event for me, while the third, the closer, ‘The Lord Is Out Of Control’ is all about vocoderised ambience, and it doesn’t really go anywhere (well, it does, it takes us to the end of the album … but hey).
There’s some good stuff too though; ‘No Medicine For Regret’ and ‘Mastercard’ rivalling ‘Remurdered’ as first choices for the download option if you only wanted to extract a few specific tracks.
And as much as I adore *some* Eighties kitsch, I’m not a fan of the album cover, which looks a little bit like it might have been designed by a Year 10 technical drawing student … just sayin’.