"Laugh hard, it's a long way to the bank"
I couldn't help but think of this classic Modest Mouse lyric during my first listen to "March Into the Sea", the opening track from their new album We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. Isaac Brock's maniacal vocal performance brought back memories of prime MM and immediately brought a smile to my skeptical face. You see, after the hit or miss Good News for People Who Love Bad News (an album, which on the back of "Float On", brought MM to the masses), I pretty much gave up on this band - a band, mind you, as influential as any I can name. And even though they will probably never reach the heights of The Moon and Antarctica and The Lonesome Crowded West again, We Were Dead at least puts up a fight.
What still bugs me about these last two records though is their blatant front loading of the more pop-oriented material ("Dashboard", Fire It Up", and the James Mercer guesting tri-fecta "Florida", We've Got Everything" and "Missed the Boat") which only works as an extended hand to the people who probably aren't going to make through the entire record anyway. So like Good News, a majority of the best songs are stuffed towards the end (excluding "Parting of the Sensory" which is probably the highlight of the whole album). In fact, from "Fly Trapped in a Jar" on, there is rarely a miss step.
My initial hesitancy with this album came from my exposure to lead single "Dashboard", a horn laced flair up unlike anything I've heard from these guys. Repeated listens haven't necessarily changed my opinions of the song, but like a friend of mine pointed out (word up Bert!), it does work better as part of the album as a whole. Which isn't really surprising, as most MM albums tend to have connecting lyrical tissue running through their track lists. I'll just give it a polite pass and move on.
And like I said before, the second half of the record totally kills - "Fly Trapped in a Jar", "Invisible" and "Steam Engenius" are classic MM, "Little Motel" is among the most beautiful songs Brock's ever penned, and "Spitting Venom" is a return to the epic structures of their early years, which in and of itself is cause for celebration. And I haven't even mentioned that the legendary Johnny Marr is now officially a member of the band for this record. And even though his contributions are quite subtle, it's an oddly fitting addition to their tweaked sound.
So what I guess I'm trying to say is that its better to be pleasantly surprised than slightly disappointed.