You get the feeling sometimes that Mogwai are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. The Glaswegians’ breathtaking early EPs and 1997’s seminal Young Team showcased an emotive quiet-loud dynamic that alternated between slow-burning tension and feedback-drenched white noise, marking them out as one the most influential post-rock bands of that decade. Instead of sticking to the formula, successive releases have experimented with different textures and approaches, be it low-key ambience (Happy Songs For Happy People) or more concise song structures (Mr Beast). However, despite the consistent excellence of the band’s output over the last decade, familiar complaints have risen their heads at regular intervals: notably that in their eagerness to evolve Mogwai had lost the essence of what marked them out in the first place, or (somewhat paradoxically) that they were one trick ponies merely going through the motions.
On Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will, their seventh studio album, it almost sounds as if Stuart Braithwaite and co. have listened to the message-board/media critics and decided to prove them all right. On tracks like opener ‘White Noise’ (misleadingly-titled, of course) and ‘San Pedro’ they sound like they’re in sleep-walk mode, with the latter laying down heavy ‘Batcat’-style riffs that nonetheless sound devoid of ferocity or impact. Other tracks do provide something of a curveball, but not in a good way: ‘Mexican Grand Prix’ is a kraut-tinged workout that resembles a latter-day Primal Scream cast-off, while ‘George Square Thatcher Death Party’ is an overly-compressed, autotuned mess of a song that overtakes ‘The Sun Smells Too Loud’ as the absolute nadir of their catalogue.
Elsewhere, the band resort to self-plagiarism: ‘Letters To The Metro’ is a pale echo of CODY’s ‘May Nothing But Happiness Come To Your Door’, while the second half of ‘How To Be A Werewolf’ imitates the climax of the glorious Young Team opener ‘Yes! I Am A Long Way From Home’ – needless to say, it’s not in the same league. The one truly great track here is ‘Rano Pano’: its cyclical, fuzzy riff, gradually and expertly layered, is augmented by pounding drums to create a menacing wall of sound. It’s an all-too-brief triumph. For the first time in their career Mogwai genuinely sound like they’re out of ideas: Hardcore Will Never Die… is bland, listless and uninspiring.