As an admitted Mogwai enthusiast, I approach Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait with lowered expectations. It’s a soundtrack, after all; its first-and-foremost quota is syncing up with images of slide-tackles, corner kicks, and goalie lunges from a soccer film of the same name. Technically, then, Mogwai aren’t following their razor-sharp instrumental instincts on this one -- rather, they’re lending a mood, an atmosphere. For those that argue ’Gwai albums already perform this exact function, go back to the vaults and listen to Rock Action or Young Team again. What you’ll find is enough action and drama to fill a silver screen on its own.
Now that they’ve deigned it necessary -- profitable? -- to visit the soundtrack realm à la Explosions In The Sky (remember Friday Night Lights? A post-rock-scored feature film about how the ‘other’ football came first), it’s time to hold them over the coals and shake them down a bit. I can’t remember how many times I’ve heard a post-rock/soundtrack album and wondered aloud, “What’s the Fucking Point?” In toto with disturbing people on the bus, this question, simple as it may seem, unearths a lot of concerns. When held up to this query like an ant in front of a magnifying glass with the sun juuuust rising, Mogwai, as mentioned, have always held up, the only possible question-mark being Come On Die Young, an album so restrained it almost strokes the brain to death. Still, it manages to sound important; there’s a Fucking Point.
Besides, many people will tell you that CODY is their favorite Mogwai record, and these same people might do well to check out Zidane. Its restraint and glitter-on-paste guitars aim for a similar quadrant of mellow. Problem is, for all its little ornate garnishes, Zidane fails to retain the tension that has made the Scotland-borne four-piece one of post-rock’s only safe bets. Much like the aforementioned Friday Night Lights soundtrack, it drives a formula into the ground and never bothers to justify its existence beyond its use in a movie. We get gently picked guitars, slow drum beats, basic bass; other tracks use piano in similar fashion, but that’s really it, save minor tweaks that add up to parsley colorizing an old, charcoal-gray steak. I hoped for a last-minute Moment, but even finale “Black Spider 2” doesn’t deliver anything saucy to your door within its 35 minutes (and from where I come from, if you don’t get your shit within a half-hour, it’s free).
The fact that it’s only supposed to be part of a bigger entertainment equation doesn’t justify its iffy worth as an album, and since you can buy Zidane apart from the motion picture, I felt the need to make a statement many reviewers undoubtedly made when Friday Night Lights came out: For Mogwai completists only.