Getting old isn’t fun. When all the bands you cared about as a love-struck music-crazed teenager are in the process of reissuing their classic albums and simultaneously spewing out increasingly dull new material, it really hurts. Chief amongst the myriad Weezers, Ashes, and Jonathan Fire Eaters that made up the core of my young adult listening were Glaswegian noiseniks Mogwai. Now, ten years on, the band are releasing their fifth album proper and, amazingly, it’s a cracker.
Back in the mid-Nineties, Mogwai were exciting quiet/loud kids, routinely slumming it with their penchant for the standard issue charver uniform of Kappa tracksuits and invariably clutching a bottle of Buckfast. They made music that could, and frequently did, go from pin-drop quiet to ear drum-shattering in an instant and weren’t afraid of knocking out the odd 16 minute epic.
At some point, though, Mogwai lost it. For me it happened the second they went on tour with the newly commercial post-Richey Manic Street Preachers, seemingly only to prop up Nicky Wire’s questionable reputation as political troublemaker. Mogwai, you got the feeling, were being played for fools. After that I stopped caring and neither Rock Action nor Happy Songs For Happy People could convince me to part with my cash. Mogwai, to me at any rate, had become the band whose albums people bought out of routine rather than excitement, their sound diluted from the bludgeoning glory of their debut.
So why give a shit about Mr. Beast? Well, somehow there’s a buzz of anticipation around this album that hasn’t been there for Mogwai since those early days. Admittedly, most of it’s down to the rampant hyperbole of manager and chief propagandist Alan McGee who, in his typically understated way, put Mr. Beast on a par with the lush shoegazing of My Bloody Valentine’s classic Loveless. Thing is, as much as it galls me after a lifetime of irrational hatred for the former Creation boss (I was clearly more of a Blur man in the Britpop trench war), he’s right. Mr. Beast is a tour de force and the album that, deep in your heart, not always hoped Mogwai would grow up to make, but never dared dream it would see the light of day.
All of which doesn’t mean Mogwai have grown up exactly. This time the people who brought you such titles as ‘A Cheery Wave From Stranded Youngsters” on Mogwai Young Team now present the brilliantly daft “Glasgow Mega-Snake”, a song so ludicrously titled you suspect they only just managed not to prefix it with “Do You Want To See My?”. Heralded by a pure note of feedback, “Glasgow Mega-Snake” totally wrong foots you by sounding (whisper it) a bit like Muse, a riot of squalling stage straddling, head down rock, it wrestles you into submission. Elsewhere, like of opener “Auto Rock”, they go from zero to ponderous fuzzcore in under five minutes. The most notable aspect of Mr. Beast is how fully-formed each track is and just how tight and succinct Mogwai have become. No more the sprawling, anarchic genius of “Like Herod”, no track on Mr. Beast breaks the six minute barrier and, surprisingly, they’re all the better for it.
With Mr. Beast, Mogwai have returned full of gusto, sounding revitalised and more essential than the band have ever been. If the groups of your youth continue their downward spiral, take heart, because Mogwai, bloody-minded as ever, have made the album of their careers. Sometimes, it seems, getting older can be fun.