Friday, March 16, 2007

Album Review- We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

Modest Mouse
We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

There's a song on The Lonesome Crowded West called "Polar Opposites" on which Isaac Brock sings "Polar opposites don't push away/And I know I should go but I will probably stay/And that's all you can do about some things/I'm trying to drink away the part of the day I can't sleep away." This, I feel, is an incredible summary of Modest Mouse: nihilistic and drunk. It's really hard to get away from the endless nauseating criticisms, ignorance, and even praise that has been synonymous with Modest Mouse in the last few years. The band's latest album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is great enough to transcend some of these ridiculous criticisms (such as their signing to Epic records in 2000, and their indie cred-killing popularity with the success of 2004's Good News for People Who Love Bad News) and continues to cement Modest Mouse as a significant and important band in both the worlds of independent and popular music.

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is a title that suggests a posthumous retelling of some furious, futile battle for survival. Maybe a plague, or maybe an artist's defense of fundamental beliefs. It's a story that is told both with sweetness and spit, with staccato uneasiness and major chord melodies. On the other hand, maybe it's just another meaningless, random, nihilistic statement. Either way, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is a great rock album that combines the spit and snarls with the sweetness and the uneasiness. It combines the technical and musical achievements of the old and new Modest Mouse. The album marks a significant point in the evolution of Modest Mouse and the genre of rock music.

The album begins with "March Into the Sea" and the cranking of some old wrecked instrument quickly pursued by Isaac Brock's cackling rage. Though the abrasive rage is soon smoothed over with his "sweet voice" like an apology when he sings "If you think you know enough to know you know we've had enough/And if you think you don't, you probably will". Huh? This is an example of how some of the lyrics on the album recycle old ideas that have been explored on other albums and therefore reduce some songs to nonsensical statements and played out images. "March Into the Sea" is followed by the album's first single "Dashboard", which is a great pop song filled with classic Isaac Brock storytelling, steady beats and sweeping strings. It's a great example of how Modest Mouse continue to evolve, something that would never have been conceivable had they confined themselves to the rigors of indiedom. They probably wouldn't have scored their brand new member, Johnny Marr (one half of the genius behind The Smiths) either.

Johnny Marr's addition to the band is in no way apparent on the record. He has slipped in amazingly as a member of Modest Mouse, as if he too hailed from the Northwest. While a member of one famous band joining another is not new, nor significant (i.e. Ronnie Wood joining the Stones, Pat Smear joining Nirvana), someone of his caliber and age joining Modest Mouse certainly is. Especially since his collaboration is seamless.

One of We Were Dead's… highlights, "Parting of the Sensory" combines much of what was loved about the pre-2000 Modest Mouse, and a lot of what was discovered in the major label studios. The first half of the song is a spacey acoustic number filled out with echo-y hand claps and airy syth, but soon spirals out of control into a fiddle driven, hiss snarling round and knee slapping revolt.

Part of me is frustrated with Isaac Brock, wondering what he has to complain about. Though ultimately, when he makes sense he can be incredibly existential which would leave him with nothing…leaving him to in turn sing about that...nothing. On behalf of the band I'm guessing, because, as the title suggests, most of the songs refer to "We" rather than "I". Sometimes it's as if he's sung himself into a hole such as on "People As Places As People". He sings "We're the people we wanted to know" and "We're the places we wanted to go".

We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is ultimately one of the most listenable albums, start to finish, that Modest Mouse have released. It's a very diverse and remarkable album. Where some of the lyrics have not evolved as much as the musicality of the band, Modest Mouse continue to rank as an important and relevant force in rock music.

Download >>Dashboard

Download >>Parting Of The Sensory

1 comment:


LOVE LOVE LOVE you guys @musicmiz... almost as much as i love the mouse:)


i do think that this album seems a little less angry than the last. maybe not "angry," but i feel their discontent has shifted over to a more passive voice. maybe you're right, that's the theme of things for this album. AMAZING REVIEW!