Modest Mouse ‘sinks’ to new heights

By Matt Donato
March 29, 2007


Fresh off a three-year break and a brief touring stint late last year, Modest Mouse is back with their new album, “We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank.”

On their fifth outing, MM gets some help from legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. What began as a couple of jam sessions between Marr and MM’s vocalist and lead guitarist Isaac Brock turned into a full-length album and a tour.

The album is closely related to 2004’s “Good News for People Who Love Bad News,” which doesn’t mean they are identical twins but perhaps fraternal. The album is just as cleaned up as “Good News.,” which will keep plenty happy but will throw off (but not disappoint) the diehard indie lovers that backed such a band in the first place; a band that thrived on drunken, energetic, sometimes relaxed rawness that was more inspiring than any other mainstream crap that is shoveled into unsuspecting listener’s ears.

Whether the crisper sound is influenced by Epic – with their mainstream manipulation – or it is just that time to grow up, this album doesn’t disappoint nor does it shy away from being what it is, as Brock put it “a nautical balalaika romp.” After more than a decade in the industry, half of that being indie-wise, MM is taking their music to the next level.

They are still certainly Modest Mouse with this album, and this point is proven in tracks like “March into the Sea” and “Spitting Venom,” which is the CD’s climax. It drops off at eight minutes and 27 seconds as it switches back and forth between some acoustic folk and an electric jam that is enough to get even the most apathetic listener moving.

Musically, the rest of the album differs a little from past efforts, but the lyrics are still very much their own with plenty of reckless insight. On “Education:” “Call it education it was somewhere in between/ you gave me some sound advice, but I wasn’t listening,” and in “March into the Sea:” “Bang your head like a gong/ cause it’s filled with all wrong/ ahaha/ clang, clang, clang.”

Their first single, “Dashboard,” plays as another “Float On.” It finds Brock in another keep-your-head-up, it’s-not-that-bad, we’ll-make-it-through kind of mood. Arguably, it could be another influence of the label, but either way, it works and is another of the album’s high points.

There is an obvious difference in the new album. The clarity is beyond their indie output’s and even 2000’s “The Moon and Antarctica,” which was their major-label debut with Epic, but this in no way exudes a sell out. MM was doing the whole indie thing before any of these now indie bands knew what it was.

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Matt Donato

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