Modest Mouse- We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Release Date: March 20, 2007
When Tom DeLonge said in an interview regarding his newly formed band Angels and Airwaves, he said that their debut, We Don't Need to Whisper was gong to be "the best f--king album anybody has heard in 20 years." Naturally this was met with skepticism, and as it turns out AVA did not deliver as DeLonge had promised. His artistic vision of WDNTW was skewed, which brings me to Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse's new album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.
Brock, a typically reserved person in terms of even participating in interviews, offered his artistic vision of their new record in a rare interview as a "nautical balalaika carnival romp." After finding out that a balalaika was an obscure Russian instrument used in orchestral pieces, it seemed pretty far-fetched that Modest Mouse would have taken the orchestral aspect of the balalaika and moved it into a nautical carnival romp. However, after listening to the album, it is clear that Brock was not lying. WWDBSES is a carnival-ic movement through the psyche of the sextet who took their popularity skyward with 2004's "Float On." There is no "Float On" on the new record, as Rolling Stone heavily laments in their review of the album; however, there is a stunning clarity of vision in Brock and co.'s loud and crunching 5th studio album.
We Were Dead begins with a festival beat leading into Brock's trademark half-yell, still on key yelping, completed with repetition of "a-ha-ha" transitioning into peaceful moments that recall the softer sounds of 2004's Good News For People Who Love Bad News. "March into the Sea," the first track, is a perfect example of illustrating the truth in Brock's statement about the album, because it is as jaunty and romp-ish as any track on the cd itself. The track ends with Brock yelling loudly over crunching guitars, now played by original MM member Eric Judy and former Smith's guitarist and full-time member of MM Johnny Marr, "March ON." and so the cd marches on in grandiose fashion.
The next six tracks of the album are its strongest core of songs. "Dashboard" is the ultimate Modest Mouse dance tune, with soft falsetto background vocals provided by Brock along with audacious lead voice. The track also adds a layer of depth with a string part during the chorus portions of the song, making the song (if this is even possible) more danceable. The song also echoes of "Float On" in lyrics, as Brock repeats "It woulda been, coulda been worse than you have ever known" as if to say that its not too bad, whatever happened. The acoustic country jaunt 'Parting of the Sensory" features a decidedly negative Brock as he screams at the end of the song "Someday you will die and somehow someone's gonna steal your carbon," along with "awww fuck it I guess we lost." The song also features a key part of We Were Dead: time signature changes. 2/3 of the way through the song features a speeding up of the rhythm to facilitate the increase in instrumentation.
"Florida," "Fire it Up," and "Missed the Boat" are some of the most poppy songs Modest Mouse and Brock have ever written. Backed up by James Mercer of the Shins, the choruses of "Florida" and "Missed the boat" are instantly catchy and completely danceable. These three songs, as well as the Mercer-tinged "We've got everything" feature the songwriting styles of Marr, who's past with the Smiths comes to the forefront in these four new Modest Mouse tracks; indeed, with the addition of Marr, Modest Mouse have added the pop sensibilities to go along with their endless creative intelligence.
The standout tracks on the cd are "Little Motel" and "Spitting Venom." "Little Motel" is a slow dance accentuated by an irregularly reserved Brock along with keyboards and a soft guitar that brings to mind slow Police songs more than Modest Mouse's previous ventures into slow songs. "Spitting Venom" is an 8 minute conglomeration of two songs: a violent dance jaunt for the first four minutes that features Brock's trademark anger and a melodic, epic finish to the track which understates Brock's voice in favor of large and complex instrumentation. These two are beautiful pieces of work by Modest Mouse, and are two of the best songs they have ever written. The production is well done, at the same time minimal with its tuning and correcting, and heavy with instrumentation that rarely seems overdone.
The records weak point comes after “Little Motel,” when Brock and his cohorts go a little bit too deep into the oddities of Modest Mouse’s unique brand of dance pop. “Fly Trapped In A Jar,” “Education,” and “Steam Engenius” are the weakest songs on the album, although any normal indie outfit would kill to produce songs lie them. Brock’s lyrical presence does not fail here however; the album exhibits a sober Brock writing complexly and cryptically, not to mention brilliantly, as on his previous releases when he was doing drugs.
The record closes with two medium strength tracks. “People as Places as People” is a poppy tune that is slightly weaker than “We’ve got Everything,” and “Invisible” is a well done typical Modest Mouse ending: fast, semi-climactic, and finally pleasing.
Among all of its massive amounts of instrumentation, We Were Dead finds Modest Mouse even more brilliant than they were when releasing Good News. None of the songs fit together in a flowing whole, but each song has a unique style all its own, and the sum of all the 14 tracks on Modest Mouse’s new album amount to easily the best cd of the year so far. Brock, after adding Marr and keeping his crew intact, has amassed a wonderful catalogue before this record, and some of the tracks, despite his former brilliance, will be remembered as his best songs. Let the carnival romp begin.