Mogwai: R U Still In 2 It?
n a way, I find it kind of odd I don’t own any Arab Strap albums. I don’t even really have any of their songs; their sole presence in my life is a Bis remix of “Turbulence” (which is surprisingly good) and Aidan Moffat’s voice on this track.
I’ll tell you a secret: Every time I almost buy an Arab Strap album, I pick it up and look at the back to see what songs are on it, and there’s never a tracklisting there. I hate that. I think that might the reason I always put them back down.
That’s a silly reason to avoid them, because I love Moffat on “R U Still In 2 It?”, love his voice and his performance (and, like Leonard Cohen, his vocals are close enough to speaking that he is also a sort of actor).
And that doesn’t explain why I’ve never downloaded anything of theirs. It hasn’t been a conscious effort, either, I’ve just never really had the urge to go out and get some Arab Strap. I think maybe it’s because his performance here, and the song itself, is so perfect I’m afraid of disturbing that, or at least of making it less special.
When the guitar starts, that watery, gentle, mournful progression of notes that repeat into infinity, I’m conditioned to believe that since this is Mogwai they will eventually lead to somewhere, be it noise or another gentle melody. But for once, it never does. It just repeats, treading the same sad circles ad nauseum. The bass chimes in, softly, behind it. There’s great beauty in those sad notes, but they’re just a stage being set.
The story itself isn’t terribly significant. There are no names, few details, bitter recrimination, and when the “chorus” comes, if you want to call it that, it’s not Moffat that sings, it’s Stuart Braithwaite and the rest of Mogwai. And it goes like this:
Will you still miss me, when I'm gone? Is there a love there, even when I'm wrong? Will you still kiss me, if you find out? I will now leave you but don't follow me
It’s all oblique; Moffat delivers his monologue of half-assed offers (“We'd share a popcorn and we can go to the pub at night”) as if with eyes downcast. There is a squirmy quality to his performance, as of one who knows he is not a good person and fears the consequence (“But will you still kiss me?”).
All that sadness swirls around. We don’t know his side of the story, not really; we don’t know hers either. There are years behind this song, and we can’t imagine them, can’t even begin to; to try to picture who is in the wrong here is folly itself. And like most relationships, the truth here is probably that they both shoulder the blame. But we can substitute our own years. There is enough shame, love, hurt, anger and (naïve?) hope in “R U Still In 2 It?” for any relationship.
But you don’t want to get too close. Because ultimately, Moffat’s shame, the way Mogwai sings that first chorus like they’re speaking for the dead, or for us all, the way Stuart alone takes it up the second time, all alone, the unutterable despair behind Moffat singing “Am I your only one? 'Cause you're still my only one”, those guitars, all of it, it’s all just cover for one thing. It all swirls around obscuring things necessarily, avoiding the subject like we always do. This song, and the way Aidan won’t meet your eyes, and Stuart’s whisper, and that damned inflexible progression of notes, over and over, they all mean the same thing, less mutable than death or taxes (because they can both be cheated), the one dead certainty the lyrics end on:
I will leave you and I will miss you.
How much of music can be reduced down to that one sentiment? Maybe it says more about me than about music that I believe that most of it does. When Stuart forces those words out from his nearly still lips, it doesn’t matter what he’s done. It doesn’t matter what the “you” has done. They could have the best of reasons. They could have the worst. It could all be hideously unfair. It could be a blessing. But it is happening. And it’s too late to do a damned thing about it.
“R U Still In 2 It?”, and by extension Mogwai, has the decency to not end on that note, not quite. For two more minutes the piano plays and there is a gentle guitar keen. But it’s over. The room is empty. Our bedrooms are cold, our timing is flawed and love, love will tear us apart. Always.