CULT CLASSIC: MOGWAI-COME ON DIE YOUNG.
Cult Classic: Mogwai-Come On Die Young.
It’s hard to believe that twenty-one years have passed since Mogwai released their sophomore album, Come On Die Young, in March 1999. Back then, Glasgow-based Mogwai were one of the best up-and-coming bands not just in Scotland, but Britain. Since then, Mogwai have established a reputation as one of Britain’s top bands. They’ve also established a large and loyal fan-base across the globe. Mogwai are one of Scotland’s most successful and hardest working bands.
Since 2003s Happy Songs For Happy People, have released another nine studio albums, two live albums and seven soundtracks. This includes ZeroZeroZero which was released on May the ‘1st’ 2020. It was the latest release from a group who have been around for four decades.
Mogwai’s roots can be traced to Glasgow in April 1991. That’s where guitarist Stuart Braithwaite and Dominic Aitchison first met. Four years later, they met drummer Martin Bulloch and formed Mogwai, which film buffs will remember, is a character from the movie Gremlins. Mogwai was always meant as a temporary name, but it stuck and was on the label of their 1996 debut single Tuner. It was released to critical acclaim and the NME awarded it their single of the week award. Two other singles were released during 1996 Angels v. Aliens and Summer. By then Mogwai were a quartet.
Guitarist John Cummings joined the band in 1995. He’s also something of a maestro when it comes to all things technical and is described as playing “guitar and laptop.” He was part of one of the hottest bands of the late nineties, Mogwai who released two more singles in 1997.
These two singes were New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1 and Club Beatroot. Just like their debut single Tuner, New Paths To Helicon Pt. 1 was won NME’s single of the week award. This was the perfect time for Mogwai to record their debut album, Mogwai Young Team.
Mogwai Young Team.
For Mogwai Young Team, Mogwai brought onboard Brendan O’Hare the Teenage Fanclub’s drummer. Another guest artist was Aidan Moffat of Falkirk based band Arab Strap. He added the vocal to R U Still In 2 It. The rest of Mogwai Young Team consisted of instrumentals. Mogwai Young Team was recorded at Chem 19 studios and produced by ex-Delgado Paul Savage and Andy Miller, one of Scotland’s top producers. Once Mogwai Young Team was completed, it was released on Scotland’s biggest record label, Chemikal Underground.
On its release in October 1997, critics were one over by Mogwai Young Team. Mogwai were hailed Mogwai as a band with a big future. Mogwai Young Team was a groundbreaking album of post-rock, which sold over 30,000 copies and reached number seventy-five in the UK. The Mogwai Young Team were on their way. However, a few changes were about to take place.
Come On Die Young.
A year later, Mogwai were back in the studio recording their sophomore album Come On Die Young. Much had changed. A new member had joined the band. Barry Buns a flautist and sometimes pianist, had played a few gigs with the band. They then asked him to become the fifth member of Mogwai. Violinist Luke Sutherland joined Mogwai, but not on a full-time basis. This wasn’t the only change.
Recording was split between New York and Glasgow.This time, they’d forsaken Chem 19 in Blantyre and recorded parts of the album in Rarbox Road Studios, New York. Some sessions took place in Glasgow’s Cava Studios. Producing Come On Die Young was Dave Fridman. When the recording of Come On Die Young began, it was a new look Mogwai.
Founding member Stuart Braithwaite played guitar and sang the vocal to Cody. Joining Stuart in the rhythm section were bassist Dominic Aitchison, drummer and guitarist Martin Bulloch. New members Luke Sutherland played violin and Barry Burns played piano, keyboard, guitar and flute. A few session players were called upon. Richard Formby played lap steel on Cody and Wayne Myers played trombone on Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/Antichrist. Producer Dave Fridmann played on a few tracks. When Come On Die Young was finished, it would be released in March 1999.
On its release, in March 1999, Come On Die Young was released to widespread critical acclaim. Mogwai had overcome “the difficult second album syndrome.” However, as is always the case, there were a few dissenting voices. Some critics felt his production style resulted in a much more orthodox sounding album. However, I’d argue that Come On Die Young was part of Mogwai discovering their “sound” and direction. Come On Die Young is a much more understated, but also ambient, experimental, multi-textured and melodic album. There’s a fusion of ambient, grunge and post rock on Come On Die Young. Given the minor spat between critics, record buyers had the casting vote.
Released in March 1999, Come On Die Young reached number twenty-nine in the UK. Record buyers welcomed the change in direction from Mogwai. Come On Die Young had surpassed the commercial success of their debut album Mogwai Young Team. Mogwai it seemed were now on their way to finding their sound and fulfilling the potential evident on their debut album on Come On Die Young.
Punk Rock opens Come On Die Young. A lone crystalline guitar meanders along, while a sample of Iggy Pop plays in the background. It’s an excerpt from an interview he gave on CBS on 11th March 1977, where Iggy talks about punk. Mogwai allow Iggy to take centre-stage, while they create an understated backdrop. However, it won’t be long before Mogwai take centre-stage.
Cody, like much of Come On Die Young has an understated, mellow sound. Stuart’s vocal is whispery, while chiming guitar, pensive drums and crashing cymbals combine ambient, indie rock, post rock. Adding the finishing touch is Richard Formby’s lap steel guitar. It shimmers and quivers, during this haunting, hypnotic opus.
Originally, Helps Both Ways featured John Madden’s commentary from a A.F.N.L. game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, the sample hadn’t been cleared, so had to be replaced by a sample of another commentary. Just like with the Iggy Pop sample, it provides the backdrop for Mogwai as they create a maudlin, wistful backdrop. Drums crack, guitars chime and bass sits way down in the mix. Adding to the wistful, mesmeric sound is a flute. It floats in and out as this moody soundscape unfolds.
A brief snippet of a sample opens Year 2000. After that, the track is a fusion of musical genres with a futuristic, sci-fi influence. That comes courtesy of the feedback, synths and sound effects. Meanwhile, Mogwai rediscover their indie rock roots, as they drive the slow, broody arrangement along. Searing guitars join the rhythm section. They get into the groove and sometimes, unleash a spray of feedback during this genre-melting track. Seamlessly, Mogwai combine everything from avant garde, electronica, experimental, indie rock, Krautrock, psychedelia and post rock to create an innovative and futuristic soundscape that’s adventurous, bold and dark
Subtle, chirping guitars open Kappa. After that, bursts of thunderous drums interject. So do stabs of keyboards and driving guitars. Waves of music overpowers the rest of the arrangement. That’s no bad thing, because soon, Moqwai will be in full flight. It’s a joy to behold. There’s even a nod to Pink Floyd. Then Mogwai the strip the arrangement bare. Just the drums and chirping guitars combine. Soon, waves of dramatic music return. Bursts of feedback escape from the arrangement as Mogwai combine power, drama and subtle hooks.
Waltz For Aidan sees Mogwai dedicate the song to another Scottish musician, Aidan Moffat of Arab Strap. It’s their way of thanking Aidan. He contributed vocals on Mogwai’s debut E.P. and debut album 1997 Mogwai Young Team. A guitar chirps before the pounding rhythm section and crystalline guitar combines. Mogwai keep the tempo slow. The melodic and melancholy music floats along allowing you to hear its ethereal beauty.
May Nothing But Happiness is an epic track, nearly nine minutes long. Just like many tracks on Come On Die Young the introduction is understated. Chiming guitars set the scene. They’re joined by the rhythm section who create a dreamy, lysergic and mesmeric backdrop. Later, washes of keyboards sweep in and out, as Mogwai explore the song’s subtleties. There’s a strong Can influence. Just like Can, Mogwai seem at their best jamming. Things change when a driving guitar enters. It adds an element of drama, as Mogwai threaten to kick loose. Cymbals crash and there’s even a drum roll thrown in for good measure. Before long, normality returns and the track becomes a haunting, ambient soundscape.
Avant garde. That’s the best way to describe Oh! How The Dogs Stack Up. Mogwai replicate the sound of crackly vinyl. A spoken word sample is combined with deliberate stabs of piano. Bells chime and then a myriad of sound effects are unleashed by Mogwai. This adds an avant garde, experimental influence to a track that’s truly compelling.
Ex-Cowboy is another lengthy track. It’s nine minutes long. This allows Mogwai to experiment. Just like previous tracks, the introduction is understated. A searing guitar and bass combine before plodding drums enter. So do violins. They sweep back in forth. Cymbals crash as the drama builds and Mogwai head in the direction of grunge and post rock. Machine gun guitars, pounding drums and wailing feedback are combined with discordant strings. Then all of a sudden, it’s as if the storm is over. There’s a return to the understated, mellow sound. From, there, the two sides of Mogwai make reappearances during what’s a musical Magnus Opus.
A rumbling introduction opens Chocky. The drama builds and grows. You wonder if it’s about to explode? It never happens though. Instead, the buzzing, rumbling sound is joined by a lone, wistful piano. They may seem like strange bedfellows, but work well together. So do the rhythm and chirping, chiming guitars. Then there’s a spoken word sample that sits atop the arrangement. It adds a space-age influence. By now, the arrangement is being driven along by the guitars. Slow, melodic and melancholy, there’s a nod to Brian Eno and Pink Floyd, as Mogwai fuse elements of ambient, avant garde, experimental and post rock. In doing so, they create another genre-melting epic.
A lone crystalline guitars meanders along as Christmas Steps begins to unfold. Understated with an ethereal beauty, the music washes over you cleansing your soul. However, the driving guitars and buzzy bass signals a change in direction. Is it time? Will Mogwai kick out the jams? They threaten to do so. Guitars and bass lock horns. Before long, drums pound and cymbals crash. Eventually, it happens Mogwai rediscover their inner rocker. When they slow things down, the violins make an entrance. After that, the track’s ethereal beauty returns and you’re wallow in its midst for the remainder of the track.
Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/An Chris closes Come On Die Young. It’s just two minutes long. Here, Wayne Myers unleashes washes of his haunting trombone. They sit atop the arrangement’s eerie, sci-fi sound.
Sophomore albums are notoriously difficult. Many bands have realised that. Some bands spend years and fortunes trying to record their sophomore album. A prime example of this were The Stone Roses. It destroyed them. Not Mogwai though.
Far from it. They didn’t struggle with the notorious “second album syndrome.” Instead, they rose to the challenge and created one of the greatest albums of their career.
Come On Die Young saw Mogwai discover their “sound” and direction. It’s a much more reserved and understated album than their debut album, Mogwai Young Team. The music is also melodic, melancholy, dramatic, dreamy, wistful, lysergic and haunting. It’s the type of album where you need to let the music wash over you and discover its beauty, nuances, subtleties and secrets. With every listen, you hear something new and fresh as with each listen to this cult classic. That’s the case twenty-one years later.
On Come On Die Young, Mogwai combined musical genres and influences. Listen carefully and you’ll hear Mogwai combine everything from ambient, avant garde, electronica, experimental, grunge, indie rock, Krautrock, post rock and psychedelia. Mogwai have been influenced by a number of bands and artists. There’s a nod to Brian Eno, John Hopkins, Neil Young, Nirvana and Pink Floyd. Closer to home, the Cocteau Twins ethereal, fuzzy soundscapes influenced Mogwai when they were making Come On Die Young back in 1998 and 1999.
Nowadays, Come On Die Young is regarded as one of the finest albums Mogwai have released, and is also one of the best Scottish albums of the last forty years. It was a stepping stone for Mogwai who in 2020 are one of Scotland’s most successful bands who also strive and succeed to make groundbreaking and stay relevant. Long may that continue to be the case.
Cult Classic: Mogwai-Come On Die Young.