Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait

(Wall of Sound/Play it Again Sam; 2006)

By Christopher Alexander | 21 October 2007

French football megastar Zinedine Zidane and Scottish semi-obscure instrumental rock band Mogwai: perfect together! Why haven't I thought of it before? Actually, the pairing is not without precedent, since Explosions in the Sky contributed to the film version of Friday Night Lights. (Pointless digression alert: am I the only person fighting off the urge to write that band's name as Explosions! in the Sky? So appropriate, on so many levels.) I still find it an odd match, though; not for any bias against sports as much as that Mogwai makes wide, cinemascopic music, and it seems odd that it would be tethered to something as linear and old-fashioned as a sports movie. Perhaps it's the fan's blind refusal to accept that the music is not so far removed from soundtracks to NFL Films as one would like.

Still, Explosions' music on Friday Night Lights had the dynamic elements one comes to expect behind a slow-motion Hail Mary pass: rising action, sustained climax, descending action. Mogwai's music for Zidane barely registers a crescendo. Instead, it is patient and brooding, wandering even. I can't tell how well this works for Douglas Gordon's movie (like the soundtrack, it is not available in North America as of this writing), but as an album itself, it's a keeper. The band was given no instructions by Gordon, and the result is maybe the most relaxed music they've yet done. It's a clear retreat from this year's Mr. Beast, where their newfound attention to concision occasionally marred some great songwriting. Here, they're perfecting the slow-core mode found on Come on Die Young and EP + 2 (both from 1999): one lingering, allegro figure repeated for upwards of five minutes, while textured guitar feedback washes behind, then over, then behind it again.

Fellow superfan Conrad Amenta prefers this one to Mr. Beast, in fact. I'm not sure I'd jump on board. Surely, the band's strength is in stretching its legs. See "Half Time" and the two parts of "Terrific Speech," where feedback and treated guitars ditch climax for something approaching symphonic. But part of the reason it is so strongly reminiscent of earlier efforts is because two of the album's songs, "Black Spider," and "7:25," are actually outtakes from earlier records. Mr. Beast pointed the way forward, and while it's great to hear the band performing with no pressure, I can't sign off on what is essentially a doubling back. Contradictorily, though, one can't help but imagine that the band's next step is contained herein as well, since Mogwai clearly shines when they give themselves room to breathe.