On a boat in the middle of the ocean, there is a nonstop party going on. This party has so grown in decadence and unbridled madness that it has grown into a giant, lumbering carnival that specializes in nautically-themed indie rock and bombastic musical chicanery. Modest Mouse have finally released their anxiously-awaited follow up to 2004’s indie pop masterpiece “Good News For People Who Like Bad News” with the equally tongue twisting “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.”
“Ship” is most definitely in the vein of “Good News,” working towards tighter song structure, more polished sound and the constant feeling that lead singer Isaac Brock actually wants one to hear the words he is saying whilst screaming like a mad man over six vocal tracks on the same song.
Naysayers will point to Modest Mouse getting a taste of the good life after about 10 years and three previous albums with radio hits “Float On” and “Ocean Breathes Salty” as reasoning for this semi-drastic evolution in sound (“Missed the Boat” is a great song, but it would have no place on “The Lonesome Crowded West”), but this can more likely be attributed to the addition of former Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr.
Flecks of Smiths influence can be heard throughout the record, which lets itself lay pretty low for the most part, never really reaching the level of pure insanity that previous efforts have hit. This does not take away the quality of this album. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Brock’s songwriting continues to evolve with songs “Parting the Sensory” (despite the Ted Leo rip off in the guitar lick) and the dissonant encouraging “Fire It Up” (which has already been misconstrued as a stoner anthem).
“Fly in a Jar” helps show off the newly defined rhythm section that has been the driving force in Mouse, getting Brock a base to display his jangly chords and wild yelp. This is especially evident as the song morphs into a dance, pounding jam session.
However, it is the long, sprawling “Spitting Venom” that truly epitomizes Ship; clocking in at eight and a half minutes. “Venom” is reminiscent of Modest Mouse’ debut album, “This is a Long Drive…” sounding almost as if it was written at that point in Mouse history, but let to evolve over the years with the band and their respective sound. What started out as over the top noise rock fronted by a man, who at one point in time made a suit of pots and pans during a thunderstorm and taunted God into electrocuting him, has grown into a mature and defined bit of rock music that is still technically fronted by the same man.
While there’s no denying that Ship is a remarkably catchy, well produced, lyrical genius and excellently executed record, it is still terribly different from the band that many fans fell in love with. At heart, of course, it is the same band, singing about the most depressing subject in an optimistic way.
Should an album be viewed without context? Is it fair to chastise a good album simply because “The Moon and Antarctica” may be a little depressing? Some may think so, but hopefully most will be able to love this Modest Mouse 2.0 since, at heart, it’s still the same frantic, intoxicated, self-destructive, insane captain of this ship. All aboard.
Modest Mouse formed in 1993 in Issaquah, Wa. and released their first album, “This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About” in 1996.
“Dashboard” is the first single off “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.” “Dead” was released March 20, 2007 on Epic Records. It is their fifth studio album.