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Thursday, January 06, 2005 

The Floating World: The Same Mistakes

So I like the Cooper Temple Clause again. First I did, after picking up their first album See This Through And Leave and listening the hell out of it. A debut record with only one outright bad song is remarkable, and that the one bad song would be as audaciously bad as "555-4823", where at least they're trying something different, is impressive.

Then I went off that record more than a little (I'm not sure why) and eventually through the Ontarion I managed to get a promo copy of its sequel Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose which I hoped would do the same thing as the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's Take Them On, On Your Own, which was to take an interesting but mysteriously unfulfilling debut and come back with more cohesiveness, more force, and so on. I'll be pleasently surprised if there's another BRMC record after TTO,OYO that I feel the need to own, and I was hoping to feel the same way about the Cooper Temple Clause's sophmore effort.

I don't, to make a long story short, although I now love See This Through And Leave again. The new on is a very solid record right up until the end, but whereas "Murder Song" ended See This Through And Leave with a bang, "Written Apology" (and "In Your Prime" as well) left me cold. I didn't even like The Single, "Promises Promises", very much. But there any many songs on there I do like quite a bit, even if in some cases only it's only in part (I love "New Toys", but I'm keeping it in edited form that shears off the last minute and a half).

But above and beyond all that, there's something about the ethos behind the album that intrigues me. It's most present on the first song you hear, "The Same Mistakes". Which is, and I think this is fairly rare, a song about trying to make a good second album.

The tagline is "And you can't go making the same mistakes", of course, but shockingly the band goes on to make good on the claims of shredded notebooks and new paths. Musically the second album is fairly similar to the first one - although with nothing quite as genius as "Who Needs Enemies?", wherein Isaac Hayes' "Walk On By" is revealed to be totally fucking hardcore. I first heard "Who Needs Enemies?" at roughly the same time as the Wu-Tang Clan's equally genius but quite different "I Can't Go To Sleep", which uses the same song to very different ends, and I don't think I really loved the original until then.

But no, what's different is the intensity. After lulling us into a calm and then slapping us viciously for the duration of opener "Did You Miss Me?", the next three songs on See This Through And Leave might as well drive singer Ben Gautry to your house, because he sounds like he's pushing you up against a wall during a barfight the whole time, his sour shred of a voice constantly hectoring you. "Film-Maker' is just about the best song about sick obsession ever, and "Panzer Attack" is one long metaphor for agression; "Who Needs Enemies?", on the surface just another rant about record industry bullshit, actually results in Gautry screaming about "all these animals / that you call friends" while Hayes' "wa-oh!"s thrust the track forward.

Even the relatively restrained "Amber", which comes next, could be the vengeful ghost of the dead-by-drink Brendon Behan, not so much a lament against alcoholism as a rage against it; There's a lull for "Digital Observations" and the strangely joyous "Let's Kill Music" ("We dare you to mean a single word you say!", shouted as only a young band can), but "Been Training Dogs" ("to bite your little princess") ups the ante again before "The Lake" and "Murder Song" end it with death.

So what is "The Same Mistakes" saying? There's some bitterness on Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose, and some anger, to be sure, but it's not as breathtaking. "Talking To A Brick Wall" is more frustrated than anything, maybe even a little accepting, "Music Box" is about independance, not killing, "Into My Arms" is a love song, for pete's sake. It's a far distance from howling "I would have made us a killer movie" while a building burns down around you and your victim to Gautry's new determination during the airline crash of "Blind Pilots":

You came along to raise the stakes
To tend to me and my mistakes
I can't pretend that I could be
The man you said you saw in me
But hang around and I'll try and land this thing

None of this change in direction is bad - it's actually quite successful, as "Blind Pilots" in particular is one of the best songs here. There aren't any more "Film-Maker"s (and its beggars belief that "Film-Maker" was a double A-side with the almost as vicious "Been Training Dogs" - I'm pretty sure some religions forbid listening to that single) because there can't be. Why? Well, I don't know. I can guess, and I'd assume it comes down to the fact that you just can't keep up that much intensity for so long. God knows plenty of bands have destroyed themselves trying.

[Interesting to note that the second time Pete and I saw Mogwai they didn't do "My Father My King" (the first time, it was a jaw-dropping 40-minute encore). We asked them about that afterwards, and one of them (Barry Burns, I think) said something to the effect of "well, we can't do that every night - it'd kill us".]

So no, you can't keeping making the same mistakes. And most bands try not to. But how often does the band admit it? Kick Up The Fire, And Let The Flames Break Loose isn't terribly meta or self-reflexive, just the odd comment, but you can tell they're trying. That they've sat down and said "right, we're not just going to make some shitty standard second album". They've only half-succeeded, but that gives me great hope for the future. Right now, they're one of the best UK rock bands around, and they haven't even felt their full strength.

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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