With their previous album, Good News For People Who Love Bad News, Modest Mouse got their name out there more than they ever had before. Nevermind that they’ve been around for forever and a day…no one really cared about that. Hearing the yelping, fist-pumping, stomp-rock of “Float On” was enough for most people to declare their undying love for all things Mouse.
And why not? That song (along with “Ocean Breathes Salty”, “The View”, “Black Cadillacs”, and perhaps a couple others) was a perfect summer song…something that worked on mainstream radio (and late-night talk-show stages), yet was just different enough so that you could say things like, “Yeah, I listen to the radio from time to time…but I don’t like Kelly Clarkson or anything like that.”
But the album itself was not necessarily what you would call “radio friendly”. Along with those poppier songs, you got a steady dose of angry Pixies rock (“Bury Me With It”), plodding, horn-driven Waitsian funeral music (“The Devil’s Workday”), herky-jerky banjo-dirge (“Satin in a Coffin”), and other instances of strange music. If it weren’t for a massive single, there’s no way that album would’ve caught on like it did.
Of course, we were all waiting for their next album. What direction would they go in? Would they make an entire album of fist-pumping, “arena-ready” songs? Would they steer more towards their darker, odder side?
The answer came months before the album was even recorded, when the report came in that Johnny Marr (a member of British rock royalty) would be joining the band. Nevermind that Modest Mouse had always kind of been a “redneck-and-proud-of-it-but-not-in-a-Toby-Keith-kinda-way” band, and that throwing the guitarist for The Smiths in the mix might throw that off. More than anything it signaled a move towards a more straight-ahead rock sound…and that’s exactly what we got.
There’s still a moment or two of oddness on it…they didn’t completely get away from that side. “Parting of the Sensory” is Modest Mouse at their darkness, complete with hand claps, raspy voices in the background (think Nilsson’s “I’d Rather Be Dead”, but with crazy people instead of old people), and a military-esque, foot-rockin’ (but not in the happy way) breakdown to end it.
The rest of the album, however, is much what I expected…a straight-ahead rock album. Some songs, “Missed the Boat” in particular, could really be more accurately described as a pop song…just listen to the harmony and instrumentation in the chorus for proof.
There does seem to be more songs fitting the mold of the “Float On” in this bunch…high-energy rock songs with a catchy hook. “Dashboard” is in that group (released as the first single), as is “We’ve Got Everything” (this one actually feels more like “The View”, but that’s neither here nor there). “Steam Engenius”, with its funky guitar line, and “whoo-hoo whoo-hoo” in the chorus, is destined to be blasted out of many a car window this summer.
I really enjoyed “Spitting Venom”, but, at 8+ minutes, it seems to be a bit too long for its own good. The electric guitar line also seems to be a bit too close to “Trailer Trash”, but perhaps that’s just me.
All in all, I can say that I wasn’t necessarily surprised by the outcome of this album. There’s still a form of strangeness to some of the songs, so you can’t really say that they’ve gone all “radio rock”…I don’t think they’ll ever be able to be classified as that. This is, however, their most accessible album to date, and should win them more fans than their last album did. It’s an enjoyable album…nothing I would call spectacular, but it’s pretty solid. There’s not a single song on here that I skip, so that’s good.
Essential Tracks: “Florida”, “We’ve Got Everything”, “Invisible”
Favorite Tracks: “Parting of the Sensory”, “People as Places as People”
Check out their website here