Mogwai have nothing left to prove, and it shows.
This is the band that released Young Team, Come On Die Young, and Rock Action – they have already shown that they are legends of post-rock who will be brought up in any discussion concerning essential listens of the genre. Young Team is especially close to my heart as it served as my rough introduction to the power and majesty that rock music could achieve once it was unhinged from the pop continuum. Tracks like “Like Herod” or “Mogwai Fear Satan” were thrilling, hyperdynamic suites using the comfortable voices of traditional rock ‘n’ roll.
By contrast, the band’s eighth album, Rave Tapes, feels closer to the soundtracks they’ve been carving out for the last few years: less dynamically adventrous, more even-handed and, ultimately, boring. There’s no intensity here, nothing to pick up your nervous system and throw it across the room in a fit of brittle imperiousness. The only major difference here is that the band has begun to sprinkle synths here and there through their sound. You would think they would have learned from the Nineties they were born out of: adding electronic elements for their own sake just makes an album even more awkward. Kudos to them for trying to add something new, even in a half-hearted way, but they don’t seem to have figured out exactly how to make them work in the context of Mogwai.
It’s an album by pros, and that’s maybe the biggest strike against it. Rave Tapes is like listening to Mogwai run through scales, or multiplication tables. There’s nothing that stretches their boundaries, nothing that proves anything to anyone else because, again, they have nothing to prove anymore. To paraphrase Nolan-era Batman, you either die an innovator, or you live long enough to release Rod Stewart Sings The Great American Songbook. This is Mogwai’s jazz-standards moment.