These days are celebration days for all fans of epic, sad guitar music – I’ll take a bold step here and call it, let’s say, “post-rock” – as one of the most influential bands in that field, MOGWAI, are celebrating their 20th anniversary. Last year the fellow Scotsmen already honoured their standout record Come On Die Young with an extensive release, now they did announce another big special one called Central Belters, collecting a career-spanning selection of songs, rarities and b-sides.
But 20 years of MOGWAI are also a good reason to revisit the band’s legacy from a fan’s perspective. Of course that’ll include their distinct sound, countless blown-away audiences, their constant will to evolve and some of the funny anecdotes (BLUR are Shite, right?). We all had that already though, so we shift focus a little for our celebrational list and take a look at something that most won’t associate with MOGWAI in the first place: their lyrics.
Okay, there are not many of them, we’ll give you that. But despite their mostly instrumental output there still are splendid lyrical moments in MOGWAI‘s catalogue. And according to an interview Stuart Braithwaite once gave, MOGWAI could have easily turned out to be a “vocal” band in the beginning. They didn’t, fortunately. But anyway, here are the 10 best lyrical moments of the beloved Scottish lads:
01. Punk Rock (1999)
Punk rock is a word used by dilettantes and heartless manipulators about music that takes up the energies and the bodies and the hearts and the souls and the time and the minds of young men who give what they have to it and give everything they have to it and it’s a term that’s based on contempt. It’s a term that’s based on fashion, style, elitism, satanism and everything that’s rotten about rock’n’roll.
This voice sample of IGGY POP’s public declaration of what punk’s about is not only a remarkable opener for Come On Die Young. It’s also a general statement on MOGWAI‘s attitude towards music that’s fueled by a true and strong believe in art standing for itself. Everytime MOGWAI‘s been confronted with bands that let marketing issues outweigh their artistic voice, they made quite clear what they thought of it. Thus, the work ethos of MOGWAI and their very own Rock Action label is condensed in these few lines.
02. Cody (1999)
Old songs stay till the end
Sad songs, remind me of friends
Probably one of the most touching pieces the Scottish lads have ever put out: Cody is the opening track (following the spoken word intro sample of Punk Rock) for the majestic Come On Die Young from 1999. Its delicate harmonies and peaceful vibe pair perfectly with the melancholic lines about friendship and music. Generally spoken, you could take the track’s standout lines as a lyrical legacy of this band.
03. Take Me Somewhere Nice (2001)
What would you do
if you saw spaceships over Glasgow?
Would you fear them?
is a wish that wasn’t granted.
Take Me Somewhere Nice‘s central line reveal a highly poetic and reflective voice that’s also inherent to MOGWAI‘s art. Although the singing is limited (the text comes in a similar notion as in Cody and others) the lyrics are profound and create a world of their own. The question remains unanswered though: What would you do if you saw a spaceship over Glasgow?
04. Blues Hour (2014)
On a hill slide,
No destination found…
Appearing on MOGWAI‘s latest output Rave Tapes, Blues Hour‘s a piano driven post rock ballad at its best. Especially the chorus, backed up by a subtle wall of guitar distortion, sends shivers down the spine if you’re in the right melancholic mood for it.
05. Travel Is Dangerous (2006)
Drowned by our country
Is crushed, old and rotten
Never surface again
Taken from Mr. Beast, Travel Is Dangerous comes as a relatively euphoric output for a MOGWAI song. The track itself masks its complexity with pretty straight rhythms while the text celebrates fatalism. Once again, MOGWAI are not the ones to take the easy way out.
06. Batcat (2008)
Meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow
Well, you can’t really say that these are lyrics in the narrow sense of the word. But they’re there and they’re prove of MOGWAI‘s hilarious (because sometimes simply childish) humour. Batcat from 2008’s The Hawk Is Howling drowns in heavy riffs and on top of it we get to hear distorted screams that apparently say nothing but what’s quoted above.
07. Acid Food (2006)
We learnt them as we went
Forgot them straight away
The ones we left behind
The ones we sent away
Originally appearing on 2006s Mr. Beast, Acid Food represents the rather short and straight to the point MOGWAI – at least musically. Lyrically, it’s as hazy as ever. Pairing heavy vocoder voices stating that ‘We’ll come back the other way’ with dreamy slowcore-like verses, Acid Food turns out as another strangely touching piece of abstract beauty.
08. R U Still In 2 It? (1997 – feat. Aidan Moffat)
We could go into town and spend some money.
We could go to the pictures, go and see something funny.
Share a popcorn and when it’s finished we could go to the pub at night.
And get right pissed and go home and have a fight
Not only does the Glaswegian music scene owe some credit to MOGWAI for their longterm support and inspiration – vice versa, they themselves often cited bands like Arab Strap as a remarkable influence. Especially their friendship with Aidan Moffat led to several (probably legendary) pub nights but also to the Waltz For Aidan and a few vocal guest appearances of Scotland’s finest, sad crooner. One of them is R U Still In 2 It (how leetspeak of them!) from 1998’s legendary debut record Mogwai Young Team. Lyrically, it’s one of those magnificent Moffat moments: Bad romance, harsh and bitter, but touching nonetheless. These collaborations always worked out great with the abysmal beauty of MOGWAI‘s sound.
09. Dial: Revenge (2001 – feat. Gruff Rhys)
Spending time on my own
Hold a memory and bitter recollections
Switch for switch, lust for lust
And each time I answer the phone
It says “revenge”
Another one in the list of MOGWAI‘s congenial guest voices found his finest expression in Dial: Revenge off of 2001’s Rock Action. GRUFF RHYS, singer for the SUPERFURRY ANIMALS and NEON NEON, prolific Welsh popstar as well as producer, delivered some haunting lyrics in original Welsh in this. And as we assume that that’s not something everyone understands the excerpt above shows the English version.
10. Several Songtitles
Even if MOGWAI widely refuse to express themselves vocally, their songtitles often reveal parts of their identity. Be it a political statement (Scotland’s Shame), an impressively imaginative forecast of events (George Square Thatcher Death Party anticipates a scene that actually happened after Margaret Thatcher died), their humour (I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead) or just anecdotes from the band members’ lives (You’re Lionel Richie is actually what a hungover Stuart Braithwaite once said to Richie; or: Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will is reportedly something that a friend of them overheard an annoyed Scottish teenager say to a shopkeeper who refused to sell him wine).
For a band acting mostly instrumental for 20 years now, we still got plenty of lyrical, poetic and vocally captivating moments from MOGWAI. The rarity of these moments even enhance their impact. It might not be essential but it is a vital part of this band’s legacy that hopefully will be continued for a long time still to come.