Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Come On Die Young

So here we are then - the first blog post of a brand new year. I thought about making a list of albums that I'm looking forward to in 2014, but I decided against that for two reasons:
  1. It's too obvious.
  2. I can only think of one album that I'm looking forward to.
Aside from may-not-actually-happen TBC releases from the likes of Titus Andronicus, The Hold Steady and Modest Mouse, Rave Tapes - the much-anticipated eighth Mogwai LP, out later this month - is the only 2014 album I'm really excited about right now. And since I can't write about Rave Tapes yet, I thought I'd do a blog about Come On Die Young instead.

CODY was the first Mogwai album I owned, and as is often the case, it's also my favourite Mogwai album. Their other CDs may boast hits like Hunted by a Freak and Mogwai Fear Satan, but for me, CODY is more rewarding as an album. The flow of songs is practically seamless, and the story that they tell feels like the perfect evocation of loneliness.

It's kind of strange that Mogwai - a band who barely ever put lyrics to their music - could build a cohesive narrative across an album, but Come On Die Young really does seem to tell a story. It's the soundtrack to a night in, alone, and the (mostly) wordless songs dig deep into the thoughts and feelings that loneliness can lead to.

The first track is Punk Rock, which is a recording of Iggy Pop set to a rather sparse musical backing. Iggy's speech covers punk music and the way in which "trashy old noise" can simultaneously be "the brilliant music of a genius". The important part, however, comes right at the end:

"That music is so powerful that it's quite beyond my control, and when I'm in the grips of it, I don't feel pleasure and I don't feel pain, either physically or emotionally. Do you understand what I'm talking about? Have you ever felt like that? When you just couldn't feel anything, and you didn't want to, you understand what I'm saying, sir?"

This description of numbness sets the tone for what follows rather well. This detached and slightly scary atmosphere is present throughout the album, and the results are tense and claustrophobic. Check out May Nothing But Happiness Come Through Your Door, the album's towering centrepiece:

That majestically slow build aside, the 'please hold the line' part is a big highlight for me. It sounds like the album's protagonist (yes, there is a protagonist; we'll come to that in a moment) has all but succumbed to his solitude and is listening to an automated phone message just to feel like he's not completely alone.

So who is the lonely man at the heart of CODY? Someone named Cody, of course.

The album's second track, Cody (see video above), introduces us to the album's central character. This is one of the few Mogwai songs with lyrics, and they paint a pretty bleak picture of Cody:

"When I drive alone at night, I see the streetlights as fairgrounds...old songs stay 'til the end, sad songs remind me of friends. And the way it is, I could leave it all. And I ask myself: would you care at all?"

Cody is a lonely soul indeed; when we first meet him, he is driving around in the middle of the night and quite possibly contemplating suicide. We then spend a whole night with Cody as he watches American football on TV (Helps Both Ways), ponders his life (Year 2000 Non-Compliant Cardia) and begins to see strange things that may not actually be there (Chocky, named after this story by John Wyndham). The latter, louder part of the album is populated by evil spirits like the Captain Howdy doppelgänger on the cover, and they egg Cody on towards the big finish. "Come on, die young!"

In the end...well, it's hard to say. The amazing Christmas Steps has a certain finality to it, and the big scary noises may suggest that Cody has given in to his demons and killed himself. However, the closing track (the bizarrely-titled Punk Rock/Puff Daddy/ANʇICHRISʇ) re-uses and reverses the Iggy Pop speech from track one, giving the album a circular feel which implies that Cody may never break out of his numb, lonesome life.

Even if you don't buy these theories I'm spouting, you'll surely concede that CODY is a very lonely-sounding album. It's perfect for a long, dark night when there's nobody else in the house, although you may find yourself slightly freaked out by the end. Here's hoping that Rave Tapes will be similarly sad and scary.

What a dark note to start 2014 on, eh? Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. You captured perfectly my feelings about this masterpiece. And as a semi-pro miserabilist I'd call it the perfect shade of note on which to start a year.