Album Reviews

Mogwai – Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

(PIAS) UK release date: 6 November 2006


Mogwai - Zidane: A 21st Century PortraitFrom a film that strives to portray a new cinematic art form, comes a soundtrack in perfect keeping with its message. Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait, from Turner Prize winner Douglas Gordon and director Philippe Parreno, is a real-time feature focusing solely on footballer Zinedine Zidane during one of his last games for Real Madrid. Scottish prog-rockers Mogwai here provide a typically far-reaching work that echoes the film’s attempt to scrutinise just how long our attention can be held by something so seemingly dull.

Opener Black Spider gently lulls the listener into that brooding, dark place that Mogwai so ably occupy. At a funereal pace, interspersed with softly plucked guitar melody, there is a keen sensation of entering a meditative state. Only thus occupied does it seem conceivable that one would thoroughly enjoy the forthcoming 70 minutes.

Flowing into Terrific Speech 2, sombre piano chords give way to sweeping guitar effects and the slow, methodical pace continues. Anyone wishing for a new explosive movement to erupt will be left wanting, yet it is precisely this close attention to what the band will do next that may keep you ensnared. Wake Up And Go Berserk has a burning menace through a crescendo that never breaks, before Terrific Speech introduces the same melody as its namesake. Far from a carbon copy, however, this track adds a further ambient dynamic, giving the subtle edge that allows it to be considered entirely separate.

Following track 7:25 is perhaps the album’s best, making the most of the effortlessly beautiful guitar melodies that Mogwai are capable of plucking from the air. This gentle, melancholic lullaby leads us into the album’s ‘second half’, beginning with the eerie Half Time. Again, the melodic structure of the song is repeated by another, in this case Time And A Half, but again a new element is introduced. Here, a selection of whirring samples are replaced by traditional rumbling bass and guitar, the ethereal sounds of which in fact complement the solemn piano work far better.

We then enter the album’s most difficult phase, beginning with two minutes of crowd samples, whistles and klaxons, backed by a buzzing guitar noise and entitled It Would Have Happened Anyway. Then begins Black Spider 2: a 30-minute epic that begins in a strikingly similar fashion to the album’s opener. At around the four-minute mark, the track descends into complete silence for three and a half minutes. Then, at the quietest of volumes, things very, very slowly begin to augment. Complete with more crowd samples, the drone continues unflinchingly, gaining strength with each passing minute, before stopping dead. A distorted guitar buzzes into life, but as much as instruments shriek, the impending eruption never arrives and the sound dies away.

Not, altogether, the most satisfying work ever released. Yet in this way, Mogwai have tapped into something far more relevant. Their uncompromising sound is the perfect accomplice for a film that refuses to obey conventions; a film that may indeed appear drawn out or even boring, but has a fascinating beauty to it that is hard to dismiss. As a musical work, one could read a fascinating reference to the occasional monotony and repetition of a sport that encapsulates millions the world over. This is not an album of particular delight, but its worth is a whole different matter.


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