We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank by Modest Mouse
Here’s a rarity in modern popular music: a band that’s been recording over ten years, kept the same members (more or less) and hasn’t put out a bad album yet. This one’s got the title of a great Modest Mouse album, and contains all the elements of the band’s best work — strange, melancholy travelogues, ruminations on mortality and missed opportunities, stories about people making the best of shitty circumstances, and weird, occasionally incomprehensible lyrics. It fits comfortably beside their previous efforts and still sounds a bit unlike anything else they’ve done.
Frontman Isaac Brock demonstrates yet again that as a lyricist he’s in a class by himself. His songs here sound as fresh and sharp as any he’s ever written. “Parting of the Sensory” and “Steam Engenius” in particular prove the guy hasn’t lost his knack for crafting lines so attention-grabbingly odd that you have to rewind to hear them again. With “Steam Engenius” it’s the weird tale of a robot experiencing an existential crisis, told with lines like “I was born in a factory far from the milky teat” and “Both halves are the better half, like a joke trying to make another joke laugh”; in “Parting of the Sensory” it’s the startling refrain “Someday you will die somehow and someone’s gonna steal your carbon.” Who the hell else writes songs like this?
If fans of the band worried they might be headed down the middle of the road after the mainstream success of “Float On” from their last album, this one should put those fears to rest. Most of the songs are too long for radio, with the longest, “Spitting Venom,” clocking in at 8½ minutes; and they all wander off in unexpected directions that your average 16 year-old Fallout Boy groupie won’t have the slightest fucking clue about. With several tracks about jumping in the car and getting the fuck out of somewhere, and the general sense of longing for redemption in most of the songs, this one is reminiscent of their great first full-length album, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About.
The first single released was the second track, ”Dashboard,” which, like many singles, is probably the weakest song on the album. That doesn’t mean it’s bad — “the dashboard melted but we’ve still got the radio” is in many ways the quintessential Modest Mouse lyric, and the song is better than 99% of the other shit you’ll hear played alongside it — but there’s better stuff to be found. I have no way of knowing this, but I’d guess the next single will be “Fire It Up,” which potheads across the world, too baked to know or care that the title refers to firing up a car and the song has nothing to do with marijuana, will take as an invitation to get stoned for the fourth time that day.
Do yourself a favor and listen to it at least once through sober. This is actual good music that may be enjoyed on its own merits, no chemical enhancement necessary.