I was in love before the CD even ended
I can’t keep quiet about this any longer. I just can’t do it.
I’ve got the new Modest Mouse album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (release date March 20th). And it’s really good. I mean, really really good.
Is it the addition of former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr? Is it a backlash from the simply good (but not good enough) Good News for People Who Love Bad News? Is it that the first released radio track is beyond good – one of the best songs from the album – and is causing me and everyone else in the world to renew faith in Seattle’s favorite pseudo-indie, seemingly sea-faring quartet that features a former Morrissey bandmate?
I don’t know what it is. But this album is different. Where Good News sounded like a major-label debut (it wasn’t – the brilliant The Moon and Antarctica was), this album sounds quirkier, more intense and more interesting. Where Good News was light and fluffy, We Were Dead has balls. Where Good News relied on slick production, We Were Dead makes it work twice as hard without losing the overall feel.
This album is amazing – from the opening, angsty screaming on the opening track to “Spitting Venom,” a track that has, in the span of numerous listens, blasted its way into the top five of all Modest Mouse songs, a track that seems more at home on Lonesome Crowded West than on anything more recent.
This is Modest Mouse taking the best of the new and the best of the old and smashing it together into a grown up sound – an evolved noise that brings to mind the most enlightening points of their major label albums while keeping honest to their originality – the angular chops, the spacey drawn-out notes, the twisted lyrics.
And it works.
And it’s great.
I went through a musical renaissance thanks to The Moon and Antarctica, an album that spurred a personal revolution – much like The Beatles’ Revolver or Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit changed how millions listened to music. For me, it was the end-of-the-world sound – the long, barren notes, paired perfectly with some of the best poetry I’ve ever bothered to understand.
I was predictably disappointed with Good News. I expected Moon Part Two. I didn’t get it. Instead, I grew to love it as a flawed album, one that sounded forced, as if the band members were bored with each other and bored with their sound. They tried to change, but the change didn’t turn out as well as they thought. It’s good, but it’s not Modest Mouse like I had fallen in love with them.
And then, this.
I knew We Were Dead would appeal to me, but I never imagined it would be this good. I say without hyperbole that there are parts in every song (minus one) that bring chills. I hear the ghosts of former albums, a mashup of what I’ve always loved about the band. I hear the growth. I hear the maturity, tinged with a stain of longing for the indie days, the oft-remembered poor days.
It’s not often that a band can come back from going down the wrong direction. Millions who were turned on by Good News will wonder what Modest Mouse is doing. And the Millions who were turned off by Good News will assume that this is the same old shit – “Float On, part deux.”
Those people can keep thinking that. I know what this is – a rebirth. It’s a return to the sparse and intense songs that Modest Mouse used to catch my heart the first time – the wordplay that sent me down a spiral of extracurricular thought and the arrangements that played tricks with my developing college mind. The oddness is truly back, and not in a forced wasted way but in a “keep your mind going” way.
I’m not going to say it’s a masterpiece. Nothing is ever as good as the album you first fell in love with. But if The Moon and Antarctica and Lonesome Crowded West are both top five albums of all time, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is now in the top 20. And rising.
Welcome back, Modest Mouse. And thank you.
(Check out the new video for the first single, “Dashboard.”)