Rock Action was the first Mogwai LP I bought, fired-up by their insanely LOUD/quiet/LOUD/LOUD/quiet/LOUD earlier stuff that a friend had taped for me I went and bought it the day that it came out.  I remember spending the bus journey home studying the sleeve, the inner sleeve and the odd-sized pull-out poster for info and being happy that Gruff Rhys from Super Furry Animals was guesting on a track.  I got home, whacked it on and … got a bit bored.

Mogwai Rock Action 01

Today in order to closely simulate the original listening conditions, I waited until I needed a piss, then instead of going I turned the heating on full-blast, sat on a gently vibrating couch with ripped seats for 45 minutes, pressing my knees hard into a wooden board directly in front of me, with nothing to read but the credits on Rock Action and hired a succession of sweaty men of above average weight to sit way too close to me for comfort.  Then and only then, was I allowed to put the LP on.  Truth to tell, time has maybe sculpted and mellowed me a little but this time I was … a bit less bored.

Mogwai Rock Action 02

Let’s get a couple of points sorted.  The whole of Rock Action is brilliantly played and wonderfully well produced by Dave Fridmann, there is a real warmth and precision to the sound.  Also there are some really inspired moments here, restrained though it is there is a menace to ‘You Don’t Know Jesus’ the guitars really want to leap out and lacerate your ear drums, that they never quite do – it’s like walking past a ravening Rottweiler on the other side of a fence – you know it can’t get you, but even so you can’t help flinching away from it.

Why, oh why, did I not keep the Janet Jackson article too?!
Why, oh why, did I not keep the Janet Jackson article too?!

Gruff Rhys gets bonus points for singing in Welsh on ‘Dial: Revenge’, the band wanted the sound and texture of vocals but not the distraction of the words apparently*, although I’m afraid I don’t rate the song particularly.  The same can be said for the likes of ‘Sine Wave’ which sounds really good but doesn’t really go anywhere.  Interestingly David Pajo, ex-Slint and Tortoise dude, helps out too and it is surely not coincidental that there are a lot of good sounds and textures on this album, the first Mogwai one to use synthesisers, but I think overall it just lacks some real balls, any real Rock, any real Action**.

Again though, I’m not totally trashing Rock Action, the stately Tortoise-like ‘Secret Pint’ and the brooding, churning ‘Two Rights Make One Wrong’ are lovely, serene atmospheric jams for example.  However, when Mogwai first came on the scene they were a real anomaly, coming on like a bunch of hard-drinking low-rent hooligans whilst making music that was usually the province of the more cerebral; I really loved the way they stormed the citadel.  What elevated their take on post rock even more was the visceral crunch of their guitars, it was something primal, they hurt live – there was something really earthy about this brain music.  That is exactly what is missing here, we have the nut shell without the kernel, the journey without the arrival, the foreplay without, look, you get the picture; or as The King would have it,

A little less conversation, a little more action please
All this aggravation ain’t satisfactioning me
A little more bite and a little less bark
A little less fight and a little more spark
Close your mouth and open up your heart and baby satisfy me
Satisfy me baby.

Mogwai Rock Action 07

558 Down.

PS: For the sake of my narrative here I’m sneakily ignoring the fact that Mogwai’s second LP, Come On, Die Young, had begun the process of moving away from explosions of LOUD – I didn’t get to hear that one until a few years ago.


*apart from us Welsh speakers, I guess.

**see what I did there? no, don’t applaud, it embarrasses me! Oh, if you insist.

Mogwai Rock Action 08

22 thoughts on “Lack Action

    1. They release them in different series of 12, maybe three times a year. The current ones are more Simpsons figures which I can’t be arsed with. I’m just waiting for them to produce a Record Collector – a balding, wizened creature with 2 LPS tucked under his arms.

  1. I’m with Mike on this one, never heard a note from them. I do remember being somewhere at some point (this is a very sppecific memory, clearly) and a Mogwai concert had just let out and all of these people came charging out of the venue raving about it and generally disregarding everyone else because they had been in the presence of their heroes and we were just lowly nothings who had not been witness to the glory. They were jerks about it. Kind of off-putting.

    But I think the real reason I haven’t got to them is that I don’t trust them. Mogwais are certainly cute, but they turn into Gremlins, and we all know how THAT turns out.

  2. I wasn’t all that impressed with Rock Action when I first heard it. Thankfully I started out with The Hawk Is Howling, so I stuck it out. The last two albums I’ve really loved, as well as the soundtrack to Les Revenants.

    Your bus ride home sounds like many train rides I’ve had home from Chicago in the wee hours of the night. Hungover, sweaty, and wanting to just close my eyes and wake up at home.

  3. I only got on board the Mogwai train over the last couple of years. I wasn’t really taken by what I’d heard, but a friend assured me there was tons to dig. There is of course, but this happened to be the first album of theirs I done got – and it was mighty underwhelming. Followed it up with The Hawk Is Howling, though … that got the wheels turning. Anyway, I reckon you’re spot on – definitely more action required.

    Also, I’m really pleased to hear the bus experience down there is as good as that in Scotland!

    1. I’m a sucker for their debut LP, as usual – I’d recommend that one hugely.

      Plus they’re local to you, the inner cover poster thingy that I’ve plundered for my Lego was all taken somewhere called ‘Nice & Sleazy’?

      1. I’ll need to have a look at what I have (admittedly I haven’t kept track – picking up CDs when I saw them cheap or when folks threw one at me). I have a pile of them. Most haven’t been paid that much attention …

        I was actually talking about Nice & Sleazy this evening. Fancy them apples. Used to be a favourite of mine. Haven’t been there for just drinks and social nonsense in about 10 years!

      2. Bar and venue. I’ve not actually been in the bar for years, but I’ve played down in the venue a few times and seen some bands there. Good times.

  4. One of your most enjoyable set-ups ever. I chuckled so loud the boy asked why, so I let me read the first two paras. Marvellous.
    Hey – your influence is world-wide. Today I bought two (count ’em) White Hills CDs. Do you get a cut?

      1. I’m really pleased and I hope you like ’em. HP-1 is when I joined the gang, really like that one loads, particularly ‘Upon Arrival’ and the title track. I’m less keen on ‘Frying’, not so many good tunes for my money, although ‘1000 pads of light’ is great.

        Dave W really plays his heart out on these. They’re nice folks too.

        I really want you to like them too!

    1. H-p1 was my gateway record to the world of White Hills, thanks to Mr. 1537s excellent write-up of the album way back in the year 2013. Frying On This Rock has it’s moments, but isn’t as striking. “Paradise” kills me. If you feel the need to investigate further, might I suggest Heads On Fire. It has one of my favorite songs, “Don’t Be Afraid”.

      Now I need to put some White Hills on.

Leave a Reply