Thursday, June 28, 2007

Modest Mouse - We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

Modest Mouse
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Epic 2007

Any music fan knows that the scene is constantly changing. If you are a musician with at least some shred of real talent, you know that you are the product of every artist that came before you, and if you don’t realize that, then you are ignorant. The original music created today is in direct relation to every change made over the past history of music. Without going into a detailed history of the changes or the origins of rock, it can be accepted that new music is inevitably going to be created; and right now someone is banging out their first strum on a G chord that will lead them to become the next Johnny Cash or Prince or Slash or combination of the three.

As a band progresses in its career, the members often feels compelled to follow their own certain pattern of evolution whether it be for label pressure, monetary gain, or by an honest development of their talent. Some of their fans, however, get left behind lamenting, and inevitably say to others “Their old stuff is better.”

Case in point: Modest Mouse, who have returned this year with a follow up to their multi platinum explosion Good News for People Who Love Bad News. That album, even with their signature indie rock attitude, was met with disappointment from some fans claiming it to be a more pop-oriented album. They were right.

I read a quote from lead singer Isaac Brock regarding Good News, in which he expressed satisfaction with the record’s closer to pop sound. He mentioned that he’d set out to write a pop album with each album he’d ever written.

So, who’s to judge?

The new release We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, is a great album. It plays well from end to end, and each song, separate of the others, is masterfully crafted, catchy, and very listenable. It goes past what Good News did for the band, and makes them much more approachable for new listeners. Yet, the old fans are torn. They are the ones to judge, perhaps because they remember the band for a different sound. And that is okay. But if we look at the album as a whole, it is wrong to say that it is bad because it is a departure for the band. If it were bad, I think it would certainly be panned. But there is a reason it is garnering so much attention.

The first single “Dashboard” starts off with the main guitar riff bouncing on top of a steady bass kick, and you feel ready to dance with the rest of the song. As Brock sings the line “The dashboard melted but we still had the radio,” the beat kicks in and the song is off, pulling its listeners into a happy melody reminiscent of “Float On,” the band’s most well known hit from Good News.

“Now, here we go!” Brock repeats throughout the track.

What follows is no doubt a more poppy album than the band has ever produced. But throughout the album, the band displays elements of what has made many a great popular rock song. From the British invasion of the sixties, to classic guitar of the seventies, to modern ambient rock, Modest Mouse incorporates essential elements to making a good record.

What is missing from the album, and what ultimately hurts the album’s character a good deal, is the use of non-conventional instruments that the band has often put to the forefront of their career. There are some more electronic elements to the sound this time around, but I noticed the absence of horn oriented songs, banjo riffs, and maybe the occasional Glockenspiel.

You will be caught singing at least one song in your head later. The catchiest song on the album, and perhaps catchiest melody in years is found in the song “Steam Engenius.” If you’re looking to dig into the album beyond the singles, try that one and I dare you not to get it stuck bouncing around in your brain.

Long time fans, you will no doubt be disappointed by the overall “new” sound. But consider the title, perhaps it is referring to your quick judgment. Hop onto the sinking ship, it is bound to pull you under with it.

-Mark Wingerter

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