Mogwai, Shakira, Buzzcocks
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[The Mail On Sunday, 2006]

THAT AUTHORITY ON avant-garde pop, Simon Reynolds, coined the phrase “post-rock” in the early Nineties to describe the then pre eminent experimental form - dense, textured, repetitive. The name seemed something of a conceit: a claim that rock was effectively over, and due to be replaced. Looking back from an era when all is retro and innovative rock music escapes from the industry as readily as light from a black hole, there may have been some merit to it.
 But what was avant-garde either withers away or becomes established, and post-rock is now just another genre. Since the turn of the decade, its undisputed darlings have been Glasgow instrumentalists Mogwai; and on Mr Beast ([PIAS] ***) you can hear why. Few bands have been so successful at fusing familiar indie sounds with the loops and patterns that characterise the more accessible modern classical composers. Mr Beast is heavy and languid, and brings a certain suppleness to a formalism which strongly recalls New Order's austere 1985 track Elegia. There are certain influences that get pretty much everywhere.
 Britney's a trailer-trash mom. Christina's been drastically remodelled from skank to coquette. Their Latin American counterpart, Shakira, still looks much the same. When she first emerged, one of the most entertaining things about her was her peculiar, nasal, phonetic approach to English lyrics. If anything, it's become more pronounced. A couple of tracks into Oral Fixation vol. 2 (Epic **), it dawns on you. The honking vocals, the melodrama, the high camp: she's transmogrified into Cher. One minute you're being slobbered over by avidly heterosexual meatheads everywhere; the next, premature gay iconhood beckons.
 The album itself is a decent bit of work - standard-issue American chart-pop, but polished, varied and seldom prone to drag. Still, you really do have to be a fan of the lass's goose-like over-emoting to fully enjoy it.
 It says something about today's punk acolytes that they can't best the well-worn Buzzcocks of 2006, let alone the wonderful band of thirty years ago. Flat-Pack Philosophy (Cooking Vinyl **) is at least as good as the many things it sounds like - or rather, to be fair, which sound like it. Buzzcocks still have energy to spare; and in Wish I Never Loved You, a sharp and spirited tune cannily formulated to recall their best-loved moments. Over the course of the album, though, that standard is impossible to maintain. They always did deal in gripes and grumbles about modern life; but Flat-Pack Philosophy's list of targets (Ikea, Tesco, credit cards) sits uneasily with music still aiming to conjure up teenage vim. There's some fine stuff here and there, no question. Buzzcocks have still got it. It's just that, like most of us, they don't have quite as much of it as they once did.

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