Good News For People Who Love Bad News
If Modest Mouse fans sensed a disturbance in the force when “Gravity Rides Everything” popped up as the unexpected soundtrack for minivan commercials earlier this year, then the ads that recently started appearing to promote their new album have probably convinced many that completion of the Death Star is nigh.
Should they be so scared? Certainly there’s little doubt that the album’s first single, “Float On,” is the most poppy, radio-friendly track that the band has ever put together. It’s also a surprisingly smooth and upbeat song for a band obsessed with the beauty in sadness and infamous for their unbalanced mood swings in mid-tempo. And yet, it’s still great stuff. A stronger-than-usual Talking Heads influence is clearly felt. Brock actually sings very much like David Byrne here, as opposed to his usual rambling style. There’s also a general consensus that Good News For People Who Love Bad News is the band’s most accessible offering to date, featuring cleaner production than they’ve ever had in the past and a generally more polished, simplistic sound.
Of course, for long time fans, those who have come to adore Isaac Brock’s strange cerebral wordplay and the band’s unique off-kilter sound, this might just sound like the sort of bad news to which they’re alluding. And yet there’s good news still to be had. Despite washing their hands before performing and maybe taking a small bite out of integrity pie, it’s clear that Modest Mouse has managed to maintain their own brand of herky-jerky insanity (although toned down a bit), and even after the first listen, Good News reveals itself unmistakably as a Modest Mouse album.
Fans quick to accuse them of going Pop have only to listen a little longer until the album segues past its Cure and Talking Heads-esque beginnings into a more experimental mid-section, including the acoustic “Bukowski” and Tom Waits-inspired “The Devil’s Workday.” And then, with the heartfelt beauty of “The View,” they once again morph into a more somber version of themselves and close out the album with the usual reflections on mortality, religion and purpose (“if life’s not beautiful without the pain / well I’d just rather never ever even see beauty again”).
Personal favorites this time around include “Ocean Breathes Salty” (which might best be seen as a darker version of “Float On,” with some of the more traditional MM characteristics and witty wordplay intact), “The View” and a spattering of the other excellent album closers, including “Black Cadillacs” and “The Good Times Are Killing Me.”
Good News is certainly a much cleaner, more simplistic effort than their previous works, and it lacks the explorative, eerie depth that dominated The Moon and Antarctica and its predecessors. The band makes more extensive use of keyboards and effects this time around (something which might easily be mistaken for a Flaming Lips influence), but despite this they don’t seem to be able to conjure up the same sense of grandiose atmosphere that dominated their previous album, much less the raw desperation of The Lonesome Crowded West. Good News is much more conventional in a lot of ways, but it’s also a more rational, mature album that shows a band piecing together the various bits of their history into a new, more complete identity for themselves. In the process, they’ve included a few tracks here that I never would have thought Modest Mouse capable of putting out, and yet, when I hear them, it sounds almost perfectly logical that the band should head in this direction. Thankfully, despite its misgivings, it never manages to feel like something that it’s not. That is, at its heart, Good News is still very much a Modest Mouse record in all its odd, beautiful glory.
Modest Mouse: www.modestmouse.com