MOJO Rising

There was a time (1997 – 2002 or so) when MOJO was the best music magazine on the planet. I read them cover-to-cover, even the bands I didn’t care about. A 12-page article on Van der Graff Generator? Fascinating. The eighth article on John Lennon in 18 issues? I’m still hooked. Two pages on Gomez? Better than listening to them. They stacked — and still do — all over my apartment. As 80% of the magazine deals with old stuff, the issues don’t date. An issue of MOJO from 1999 is way more interesting than an issue of Rolling Stone, Blender, or Select. And they had the best covers. And the most amazing free CD comps with nearly every issue.

But somewhere around the issue where they put The Strokes on the cover (September 2003), they started to lose me. As much as I liked them, and as happy I was not not see the Beatles or Bob Dylan on the cover again, they hadn’t yet deserved to be there. I still bought all the issues (and still do) but I’d flip around more than I’d read a whole article, let alone the whole issue. Norah Jones was put on the cover (though only on the American version, but still). Sacrilege!

I’m not saying anything longterm has changed but the February issue is cover-to-cover fantastic. Of course maybe it’s just that the subject matter appealed to me, but still, it’s like they’ve got their, uh, mojo back. The cover story is about Joy Division — a great shot of Ian Curtis, not by Anton Corjbin for once (this time Kevin Cummings) — and the main feature finds England’s Dreamng writer Jon Savage returning to Manchester, recounting his firsthand experience with all the major players. There’s also an visit to the set of Control, the upcoming Ian Curtis biopic directed by Corjbin, his feature debut. Plus loads of sidebars, buying guides and the like.

The rest of the issue is just as great. They give Arctic Monkey frontman Alex Turner carte blanche to interview whoever he wants and he chooses punk poet John Cooper Clarke. Every time I think I’m sick of that band, Turner does something cool like that that shows despite his age, he’s got a nice sense of history. It’s a great read. There’s also a swell portrait of folk icon Pete Seeger; a long interview with John Cale; a look at how  heavy metal beat punk (cool points aside) in Britain’s anti-disco revolution; and a four-star lead review of the new Fall album (their 26th, I actually thought it was more), Reformation Post TLC.

If there’s anything disappointing about the issue it’s the accompanying CD, titled Love Will Tear You Apart, that is "15 hand-picked tracks of hurt, pain & despair." Who hand-picked these songs? Peter Hook? Tony Wilson? Gerard Way? Nope, just some unnamed MOJO editors. That said, it’s still a pretty good CD, with a cover of The Saints "Stranded" by former JAMC singer Jim Reid, an especially lovely cover of "Love Will Tear Us Apart" by Susana & the Magical Orchestra, and one of my favorite Galaxie 500 songs, "Sorry." Plus the usual mopey suspects: Elliot Smith, Townes Van Zandt, Nina Simone…perfect for your next 3AM pity party — just hide the razorblades.

Music Journalism these days is almost a contradiction in terms — good to see MOJO can still turn out something great.

MP3: Jim Reid – "I’m Stranded"

MP3: Susanna & the Magical Orchestra – Love Will Tear Us Apart

MP3: Galaxie 500 – Sorry

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