Long before guitarist/vocalist Stuart Braithwaite made a name for himself as the frontperson of Mogwai, the formative industrial post-punk band from Glasgow, Scotland, he was a deeply enthusiastic music fan. In the late ‘80s, his favorite band was the Cure—“Lullaby” was on repeat, and Disintegration was just about to drop on May 2, 1989, the week before his thirteenth birthday, no less.
Braithwaite had heard that Robert Smith was experimenting with a darker sound, not too unlike earlier Cure albums like 1981’s Faith and 1982’s Pornography. Without having even heard Disintegration, Braithwaite knew it was soon to be his favorite—it was the first one he’d ever been aware of prior to its release, after all. Below, as excerpted from his forthcoming memoir, Spaceships Over Glasgow, Braithwaite details the days before Disintegration, and just how much the record changed his life. Pre-order his book, here.
Hamilton was the town I spent most time in as a teenager. Grey, post-industrial and fifteen miles south of Glasgow, it was where my mum practised as a GP. I’d get the half-hour bus journey there after school and wait for my mum to finish work, before getting a lift home with her. I’d spend hours perusing its small town centre, going from shop to shop and starting all over again, looking through the magazines in John Menzies (“The newsagents?”), and scrutinising the records in Woolworths, Our Price, and the independent shop, Impulse. It was in Our Price that I pre-ordered Disintegration.
Finally, the day came. Knowing that after school on 1 May I would be going to pick up Disintegration, I was even more distracted than usual from my lessons. Not that I wasn’t often distracted – I’d gone from being one of the best pupils at my primary school to suddenly being far less interested in schoolwork, preferring instead to have a laugh with my new pals and gabbing non-stop about music. I had already made my choice. If the choice was between education and rock and roll, then education was going to lose.
After a day of fidgetiness, non-attentiveness and staring at clocks, I left school and got on the bus to Hamilton. It was a slow bus anyway, but on this particular day it seemed to stop at every supposed village, some of which comprised two houses. Clutching my precious ten-pound note, I speed-walked through the precinct to get to Our Price. I was a mess of excitement, but I didn’t want to betray my feelings to the staff of the shop because, in my eyes, they were the coolest people on the planet. I handed over my money and received the LP that I had reserved for weeks. Getting it in my hands gave me a feeling of total elation. I had no bloody idea what it sounded like. I raced up to my mum’s surgery where I could examine it more closely and hopefully decipher some secrets as to its musical contents. I remember pulling the inner sleeve out from within the main cover and thinking that there weren’t a lot of lyrics on the album. I’d seen some of my sister’s records with separate lyric books that were pages and pages long and Disintegration had them all printed on one side of the inner sleeve. I now realise there are loads of lyrics but they are in really small print. Alas, those powers of deduction weren’t available to me as a thirteen-year-old boy.
The start of the album was beyond enigmatic. The tinkling of the bells promising so much but barely giving anything away before being washed away by the utter grandeur and weighty sound that is the start of ‘Plainsong’, the music growing and swelling like a storm in the middle of the sea for what felt like an eternity before the vocals arrived. Having read the lyrics several times in the staffroom of my mum’s surgery, I’d already imagined how the line ‘I think it’s dark and it looks like rain, you said’ would be delivered, but I hadn’t imagined it to be how it actually was – seemingly overcome with emotion and delivered with a weary sense of beauty. So poignant, delicate and raw. It was perfect, and what followed was just as astounding. The record wasn’t all reflected in the ambient grandeur of ‘Plainsong’. There were pop highlights like ‘Pictures Of You’ and ‘Lovesong’, which struck a huge chord with my blossoming teenage romanticism…
I loved everything about the record and my fondness for it only grew the more I listened to it. The fact that it was my own record, not one of my sister’s or a taped copy, meant so much to me. I pored over every detail of it as I listened intently. On every level it felt like my album.