Modest Mouse have been known as Seattle’s best kept secret for a while now, forming over ten years ago and releasing five increasingly well-received albums. The marvellously titled Good News For People Who Love Bad News is the band’s sixth album and has been widely tipped as their commercial breakthrough.
When a band is described as the ‘next big thing’, it’s natural for a defence mechanism to be thrown on your critical faculties. Yet Modest Mouse are the real deal. When the year draws to a close and the ‘Best of 2004’ charts are drawn up, it’s a fair bet that Good News… will find a place on every discerning critic’s list.
If you’ve ever been a fan of alternative, quirky music with a brain, then Modest Mouse will be manna from indie heaven for you. There are nods here to Mercury Rev (opening track The World At Large sounding especially reminiscent of Deserter Songs), The Flaming Lips, Pixies, Pavement and even a hint of Franz Ferdinand. Yet the band are no mere copyists, instead they add their own style to the mix, producing something quite wonderful.
Lead singer Isaac Brooks’ vocals are a definite highlight, one minute fragile and wispy (The World At Large), the next minute indulging in the best screams since Black Francis let last rip (Bury Me With It). The lyrics too are fascinating throughout – Bukowski pours scorn on the rock ‘n’ roll legend of the writer (“I know he’s a pretty good read but God, who’d want to be such an asshole?”), Black Cadillacs has some attention grabbing one-liners (“it’s true that we named our children after towns that we’d never been to”) while The View is just pure poetry (“if life’s not beautiful without the pain, well I’d rather never ever even see beauty again”).
Musically too, the band hardly put a foot wrong. They can switch from grimy, Tom Waits style blues like the The Devil’s Workday to the angular guitars and tight rhythms of The View (which is where the Franz Ferdinand comparisons come in) at a moments notice. Also, it’s good to note self-indulgence is kept to a minimum. Groups such as The Flaming Lips, as wonderful as they can be, are as guilty as anyone as becoming a bit too ‘arty’ at times, but a tight hand on proceedings by producer Dennis Herring has worked wonders here.
In fact, there are moments here that could even be described as ‘poppy’. Float On is infuriatingly catchy and may well prove to be the band’s big hit single, while Ocean Breathes Salty is destined to become a classic – Brock’s vocals bouncing all round the place while the song conjures up incredible levels of energy.
Any criticisms that can be levelled at Good News…will probably come from the band’s hardcore fans, who will no doubt view this album as a “sell-out”. However, if bands such as Grandaddy and Mercury Rev can sell more records and keep their artistic credibility, then Modest Mouse shouldn’t have any problems at all. Besides, how could you have anything against a band who begins a song with “I backed my car into a cop car the other day, well he just drove off, sometime’s life’s ok”?