And there's good news for people who love bad news.
We are hummingbirds who've lost the plot and we will not move.
"Bury Me With It"
Good News For People Who Love Bad News is a throwback to the days when albums told stories, when a collection of songs was a single fluid body rather than a scattered pile of interesting parts. Listening to one or two tracks cannot possibly do the work justice, for each individual song is but one side to the story. Modest Mouse, one of the most recognizable bands in indie rock today, has finally come to us with a finished dissertation. They want to talk about spirituality, about God, about the possibility of an afterlife, and about optimism and that struggle to survive in spite of ourselves. They came with something to say.
The LP, their sixth released album, follows up the highly-praised the moon & antarctica. Rather than the experimental, introspective collection of their previous release, Modest Mouse has presented us with an album that is aggressive, yet disciplined. The message of both albums is mankind's quest for understanding mortality. Good News takes the exploration of its predecessor and focuses its energy to create a body of songs which flow smoothly. Their frenetic tone is endorsed by the inclusion of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, whose sounds nicely complement the raw energy that is classic Modest Mouse.
Listening to the first full-length track, "The World At Large," the very first thing I could say was, "This sounds a lot like The Flaming Lips." To my pleasant surprise, The Flaming Lips had quite a hand in the production of this cd: playing studio, mixing, and assisting in production. The result is an album that conveys the moon & antarctica's message with the experience and grace of The Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. The songs, enjoyed on an obnoxiously bubble gum pink cd, are largely up-beat, spunky, and fun. Even the most poignant of messages is delivered with uncompromising rhythms and elaborate mixtures of musical influence. One or two ballads pepper the LP with all the sincerity you come to expect from a band that has grown tremendously since their debut in 1996.
Some critics have asserted that the moon & antarctica is a better product than Good News. I couldn't disagree more. The lyrics are simple but profound, the instruments busy but focused. You expect the music to leave you feeling confused, or at the very least torn, but the overall effect is an ironic feeling of completion. The musical work mirrors life, which often leaves us feeling both overjoyed and saddened. There are layers of meaning in this work that could escape you if you weren't looking. Despite the message that life is full of contradiction and stalemate, the lyrics most mirrored in the album's production? "We'll all float on OK. Don't worry, we'll all float on."
1. Horn Intro, courtesy of The Dirty Dozen.
2. The World At Large, a strange hybrid of Modest Mouse and Flaming Lips. The song is strangely calm for Mouse, though you get the feeling they might break into heavy guitar at any moment. The "bop bop" backgrounds make you want to tap your foot, the twangy lyrics encourage you to smile. The song is about a nomadic heart that confesses, "I know that starting over is not what life's about, but my thoughts were so loud I couldn't hear my mouth."
3. Float On is musical caffeine, the sound of a joy only captured in moments of relief and understanding. The transition from track 2 to 3 itself is enough to make one cheerful, even if the smile from "The World at Large" is gone. It is ultimately a song about optimism, about the way bad news is often followed by the good. "Alright, already, we'll all float on, now don't you worry."
4. Ocean Breathes Salty has a pretty sound, though the message is anything but. Presented through polished production, the lyrics come across as profound, perhaps moreso than they are. "You missed when time and life shook hands and said goodbye. When the earth folded in on itself and said "Good luck, for your sake I hope heaven and hell are really there, but I wouldn't hold my breath.'"
5. Dig Your Grave, a strange ukulele introduction to...
6. Bury Me With It, which I hated the first time I heard it. The chorus is unsettling, Brock's vocals harsh and alarming. This is definitely one of the heavier songs on the album. After listening to it in the context of the rest of the cd, though, I have to say it quickly became one of my favorites. I could understand the need for the harsh, desperate cry. The drums and soft back-up vocals tie this song to the others, hinting at the undercurrent of soft resignation below the anxious surface. Take a river, turn it upside down. That's "Bury Me With It."
7. Dance Hall is an affirmation that sounds more like an accusation. It is stubborn and forceful, infectious. A closer listen, however, gives you the same optimism found on the rest of the cd. "Well somehow or another I fell for every scam, but I was dancin' on the tin roof, cat be damned."
8. Bukowski proves that Brock and the boys aren't as illiterate and simple as they sometimes allow themselves to be portrayed. The song is almost a quiet nod to all the fans who've known their capacity all along, a demonstration that "Yes, we can read. And we do." "Bukowski" combines a puzzled picture of God as a "control freak" with pointed references to Bukowski's work. Lyrically, this song is incredibly deep. "All that icing and all that cake, I can't make it to your wedding, but I'm sure I'll be at your wake... Went to bed and didn't see why every day turns out to be a little bit more like Bukowski."
9. The Devil's Workday screams Tom Waits. It is fun and dramatic, the seedy underbelly to the entire album. The banjo and horns combine to sound like New Orleans, sinful and likeable. "I could hang myself on treason, for I am my own damn god. Ha ha ha..."
10. The View is a happy complaint, agreeable guitar and softened vocals that send a mixed message. "As life gets longer, awful feels softer and it feels pretty soft to me. And if it takes shit to make bliss, well I feel pretty blissfully. If life's not beautiful without the pain, well I'd just rather never ever even see beauty again."
11. Satin in a Coffin carries a similar beat to "Dance Hall," though the vocals are somewhat lighter and there is, of course, the banjo and the pump organ. Meanwhile, the lyrics carry a much heavier message, probably the darkest on the album. "You were laying on the carpet like you're satin in a coffin.... Are you dead or are you sleeping? God, I sure hope you are dead."
12. Interlude consists of organ, soft guitar, bass, and the sounds of a small child or baby.
13. Blame It on the Tetons is a moving song, quietly profound, soulful and understated. It is my favorite track on the album, the song during which Brock's voice is most vulnerable. There is a soft piano, a fiddle, and dulled guitars that compliment the wavering, saddened vocals. "Everyone's a building burning with no one to put the fire out. Standing at the window looking out, waiting for time to burn us down."
14. Black Cadillacs is food for thought, understated lyrics coupled with pleasantly somber instruments. "And it's true we named our children after towns that we've never been to, and it's true that the clouds just hung around like black Cadillacs outside a funeral." builds to the much less poetic, "And we were done, done, done with all the fuck, fuck, fuckin' around." Talk about layers of dichotomy.
15. One Chance starts off the way most alternative songs seemed to in the 90s, one guitar introducing backup instruments, a sound building from plain to full. Brock has never sounded better as an instrument of song rather than scream; the melody of this song complements his voice brilliantly. And then the vocals hit, and he's back to howling and screaming and somehow you realize it's right, and it's Modest Mouse, and you wouldn't have it any other way. "I've seen so many ships sail in, just to head back out again and go off sinking."
16. The Good Times Are Killing Us finishes off the cd with a full-blown celebration, a rich delivery of instruments that require twice the liner space of any other song. The song is strangely upbeat but apologetic, "Have one, have twenty more "one mores" and oh, it does not relent. The good times are killing me."
Modest Mouse is Isaac Brook, Eric Judy, Dann Gallucci, and Benjamin Weikel. Lyrics are all by Isaac Brock, music by the band as a whole. Good News For People Who Love Bad News is copyright 2004 by Ugly Casanova (ASCAP) in cooperation with Epic records. This write-up is copyright compliant and contains information from the writer's point of view and published information from the aforementioned cds. Must be 18 years or older to win. No purchase necessary. See details in package. Not for internal use. Take only as directed.