27 April 2009

Modest Mouse

Good News For People Who Love Bad News
Epic, 2004

What fantastic mood swings. The fourth album by indie rock band Modest Mouse, Good News For People Who Love Bad News, starts off with an ambling song about leaving home. It's full of those useless but interesting philosophical thoughts that fill our minds when they're idle or distracted, and rhymes about the change of seasons, and the feel of the breeze, and words and music. "I like songs about drifters and books about the same/ They both make me feel a little less insane." The insanity does come, eventually, but for the moment it's kept at bay. The second track is an upbeat pop song about a life without sadness or regret that repeats the mantra "it's all okay" and sounds like skipping down the street.

And then, about a third of the way in, there's a track called 'Dig Your Grave' that would win a contest for the most vicious 13-second song in existence, should there ever be one. It has just two lines: "I'm already digging/ I hope you're dead." It's followed up by an ode to nihilism with lyrics about firing shots into mounds of dirt and staying out all night drinking. At around this point you realise there's something strange going on musically as well. The songs seem overly referential. They sound like tributes to the band's idols – 'Dance Hall' mimics Pere Ubu (in fact, I discovered this album after asking someone in a record store if they were playing the new Pere Ubu record), 'This Devil's Workday' does the same with Tom Waits, 'The View' with Talking Heads, and so on.

I suppose that makes it sound cheap, but frankly, the songs are so good it matters very little whether they're tributes or not. The last third of the album returns to what you would say is a take on the band's own style of music, a sort of revisiting of the dreamy indie rock – one part outer space, one part trailer park – they mastered on The Moon And Antarctica. The last song is called 'The Good Times Are Killing Me' and, I'm sure, you can figure out what it's about: "Have one, have twenty more 'one mores'/ And oh, it does not relent/ Jaws clenched tight, we talked all night/ But what the hell did we say?" It sounds like falling asleep at daybreak, before the high has faded.

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