Two Modest Mouse album reviews

Go ahead and roll your eyes. I'll watch 'em roll, then laugh and point. Modest Mouse is my favorite modern rock band. I posted this first thing on Amazon around the time Good News for People Who Love Bad News first came out. I wrote the second, a "real review," right before Modest Mouse was named "Band of the Year" by Spin Magazine.

1. Non-review I’m-calling-out-the-dumbshit-Amazon-album-reviewer of Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News... enjoy...

So you’re a published reviewer. You get paid to tell other people what to think. Think your job is difficult? Try a self-degrading, monotonous service sector job where a permanent corporate smile is the only saving grace from termination. Love bad news? Here’s some good news. Pretty soon, we’ll all be in the service sector, until the robots drive us into complete helplessness. Good thing the freedom of speech is still legal. It’s just too bad that some people who get paid to tell other people what to think about music are simply not up to the task. Case in point: Aidin Vaziri’s review of Modest Mouse’s new album, Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Now, I’m not expecting density and expertise from an Amazon blurb; rather, my expectations are pretty low, especially when the reviewer is attempting to define an inventive, difficult-to-pin-down band to the average music buyer. However, I might as well have placed my expectations in the gutter, down the toilet, to the center of the earth, especially when you take a look at the first sentence. Here we go…

[It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment Modest Mouse started sounding like a real band.]

Before you go around spitting out that kind of language like you’re some kind of expert, define “real band.” How exactly does a band go about sounding like a “real band?” Maybe a few examples of bands that are, according to you, “real,” would help guide this argument, but as it stands, I’m losing sleep over the exact moment this realness occurred, and I’ve been a big Modest Mouse fan for about six years. I’m hoping that this review will tell me something I don’t know. Maybe a “real band” can be defined as one that actually makes money for its record company? If that’s the case, at least be honest about it and don’t hide behind your own phony pretension.

[For the longest time, singer-songwriter Isaac Brock seemed to exist solely to defy the established rules, forging forward on sheer momentum and ingenuity.]

Defying established rules, forging forward, momentum, ingenuity…nice description, most likely lifted from either another review of this album or plucked from The Idiot’s Guide to Getting Away with Describing Music You’ve Never Actually Heard. Either way, if Isaac Brock were asked in an interview whether he exists solely to defy established rules, he would probably answer affirmative, and maybe, if we’re lucky, even go as far as to pinpoint the exact moment Modest Mouse started sounding like a real band. It would be nice to get some sleep again.

[Even Pavement looked relatively ordinary in comparison to the band's early releases like 1996's This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About and 1997's The Lonesome Crowded West. ]

Modest Mouse is weird, wacky, like the kid at the empty lunchroom table….you know, the one who is rejected even by the nerd table. The one who relates to no one, not even outcasts like Pavement. News flash: people do relate to this kid. He may be full of mysteries and confusion, but he reminds some of us of our own quests for self-acceptance. It’s oftentimes a hard road, but we are always there, usually driving the wrong way, towards a dead end, listening to Modest Mouse’s This is a Long Drive for Someone With Nothing to Think About.

[But on Good News For People Who Love Bad News, the front man sounds like he's finally touching the earth, and the band--minus founding member and drummer Jeremiah Green--follows suit. A relaxed mood prevails, not so much in volume but in attitude.]

Here we go. Where Modest Mouse used to defy rules and live in outer space, now the band adheres to a relaxed mood. Perhaps there’s some kind of quest for indie rock acceptance going on, some “selling out,” making bank, leashing a mega-hit single into alternative radio land? So on this album, arguably, Modest Mouse “tame” their wild musical and lyrical tendencies for the greater good? Is that what you’re saying? Listen to Track 9, “The Devil’s Workday.” Or “Satin in a Coffin.” Please tell me that these songs have a relaxed mood, don’t break any rules, and are performed by your definition of a real band.

[On the follow-up to the group's 2000 major label debut, The Moon & Antarctica, big sloppy melodies battle it out with brass on punky epics like "Float On" and "The Ocean Breathes Salty."]

Big, sloppy melodies vs. brass. Hmmmm. First, no sign of brass on “Float On” and “Ocean Breathes Salty.” Not even a single tuba note. Second, even at the virgin listen, you can’t classify those two songs as “punky epics” in comparison to the real Modest Mouse punky epics like “A Different City” and “Doin’ the Cockroach.”

[The lyrics are simpler, the arrangements tamer, but the vitality remains. The prevailing mood is that Modest Mouse has pulled off something extraordinary here: a well-rounded, lovable record that doesn't sound anything like David Gray.]

He really gets me here, in this last, triumphant sentence, which condemns and banishes Modest Mouse (which, in case you haven’t noticed, is my favorite crazy, intellectual, musically genius band that can be simultaneously frustrating, gratifying, and surprising) to the complacency of widespread acceptance…because “well-rounded” and “loveable” cannot be extraordinary if you’re taking about the music fan/consumer. These adjectives apply to the cool, popular kid in school, but not the misfit on the outskirts. Modest Mouse may be having a coming out party as a viable product on the modern rock market, and although that may bother fans like me, I secretly know that no matter how many millions of times “Float On” surfaces on the radio waves, newfound publicity and overblown hype won’t prevent this innovative band from constantly exploring new lyrical and musical territories. But thanks to Aidin Vaziri, I can sleep at night knowing that at least they don’t sound anything like David Gray.

2. Jeanie's Legit Review of Modest Mouse’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News

The beauty of this album manifests itself with the transition between the first two songs (the second and third tracks). Like a gradual shift in seasons or a triumph over fear, the music progresses to a new level, yet it still retains its familiarity. When the unsure, wandering lyrical impulses of “The World at Large” and a completely careless, upbeat, I-don’t-care-if-I’m-on-the-radio-every-five-minutes “Float On” merge, it’s fascinating how “Float On” obviously borrows the basic melody of “The World at Large” and takes it in a completely different direction. But where? Some might say it’s towards the radio, indie rock superstardom, the proverbial “selling out.” I say that’s too simple of an explanation, unless the only song you hear is “Float On.” If that’s the case, go ahead and be contently ignorant of the rest of this album. And although ignorance is bliss, you’ll be missing out. Maybe you’ve only been listening to this band for the past 15 minutes and are surprised they’re still around. Maybe you can yell every word of “Doin’ the Cockroach” while speeding down the freeway and you actually saw Isaac Brock’s baby blue sedan. Either way, you’ll find something new and refreshing here. It takes awhile. But allow this album to marinate in your stereo, I-Pod, cell phone ring tone, hearing aid, etc., and you’ll see what I mean.

Contrary to the empty rhetoric many rock journalists will try to wash into your brain, this is not an upbeat album. While, musically, it may have turned a smile more than previous albums, lyrically it is just as introspective, ambitious, and intense. “Float On” is deceptive. I’ll give it credit; the guitars are on three tabs of ecstasy and drums glide along for the ride, but the lyrics are all about staying afloat, rather than rising above adversity. Given that Modest Mouse has always either been wallowing in the straight jacket of suburban monotony or projecting life’s meaning beyond the galaxies back to the beginning of time, this is a refreshingly content change-up. However, upbeat, relaxed, positive, [insert sunny adjective here] it is not. Once you’re afloat, once you’ve figured out how to avoid drowning forever, once you’re floating on, singing along with the chorus, the question remains: where do you go? “The World at Large” asks this very question, cleverly tucked away in the shadow of Modest Mouse’s first brush with celebrity. It’s a song about wandering, wondering and never feeling satisfied. The rest of the album follows this path faithfully, sometimes even to a fault.

At the epicenter is “Bury Me With It,” a fatalistic meditation on closure. “Good news for people who love bad news,” announces Brock, casually coining the album’s title in the middle of the song as if it’s no big thing, “we've lost the plot and we just can't choose.” As we drift and float through life, it’s as if we’re indifferent to every little decision that comes our way because it will inevitably shift every happening thereafter. Our plots have become obsolete because we no longer have complete control. Even necessities we take for granted can slap us in the face. “So don't drink the water, don't you breathe the air; if it's gotten to that point then I have to declare: that you please bury me with it!” If what we breathe and what we do will no longer make a difference, why not just bury ourselves with freedoms that used to matter? At the end of the day, however, I’m glad Isaac Brock spared himself with his guitar and the rest of his band.

Thank you, mainstream radio, profusely for embracing “Float On.” You have made it possible for new fans to appreciate the offbeat, progressive phenomenon that is Modest Mouse. If you like what you hear, you might want to check out past releases. There is an entire library to be explored, but light of heart beware – it might just open up a Pandora’s box of paradox, especially when you actually listen to the lyrics. I always like to refer to Modest Mouse as an acquired taste. It was sour at first impact with my ears, but gradually, it has become an enlightening taste that keeps on giving back. No matter how many times I listen to the final drum rave-up of “Styrofoam Boots / It’s All Nice on Ice” (album: The Lonesome Crowded West), it never sounds the same twice. And Good News for People Who Love Bad News ends with intentions intact: a sing-round-the-campfire flute-infested orchestral acoustic romp titled, “The Good Times are Killing Me,”concludes the album. It’s a good thing Pandoras like me love bad news.


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