I AM JADED FUCKIN’ INDIE GUY: The New Modest Mouse Is Hard To Love, But Even Harder To Hate

ed_king.thumbnail.jpgBY ED KING ROCK CRITIC Whew! My head hurts from all the time I?ve spent with the latest Modest Mouse album, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank. This thing?s hard work. When did the world get so smart that they all get it and I?m not sure I do? This band is moving units, right, and you can?t attribute their appeal to hot looks and sweet hooks. In an act of brutal self-analysis, I persevered. And yes, I?m a better man for having done so.

For the first few spins, all I could think of was why I find this band so difficult to like. Their angular funk marches — which are, nonetheless, not very danceable — aren?t too far removed from the noisier side of XTC, a band I went so far as loving to defend the excessive-by-their-standards The Big Express. At times, such as on the hit single ?Dashboard? and ?We?ve Got Everything,? those angular funk marches verge into the ’80s Bands Reunited territory of The Fixx as interpreted by Dave Matthews Band. Fair enough, but no reason to feel tormented by this record.

The sea-shanty choruses of songs like the opener, ?March into the Sea,? could not set this fan of Pere Ubu?sweweredead.jpg ?Caligari?s Mirror? over the edge. Not at all. In fact, if I had my druthers, the production of this album would allow for the clanging guitars to fight for space with singer Isaac Brock?s hectoring yelp. And no, hectoring yelps in and of themselves (I kept telling myself) are not automatic deal-breakers. But something about Brock?s yelp had me playing the first four or five songs over and over, never feeling the slightest bit satisfied beyond the brief, rare and melodic Flaming Lips-styled elfin interludes of songs like the opener and ?Fire It Up.? Then it came to me: When did Bobcat Goldthwait get reborn as an indie rock singer? To carry on, I would have to steer clear of the deadly Bobcat segments.

Early on, ?Florida? gave me some hope, sounding like one of those hopeless bids for a hit single off a Fontana-era Pere Ubu album. When I finally made it to a track called ?Missed the Boat,? the seas began to part. With chiming guitars, choral vocals and a brief, melodic guitar solo, this number went down easy. How I needed to get my bearings straight.

The album ends with a string of songs that display challenging arrangements, hectoring, good natured, self-critical verses and grand, anthemic choruses, undanceable funk marches and those damned segments in which Brock channels Bobcat. A song called ?Steam Engenius? had me scratching my head with a bad case of ?What the hell does this remind me of?? until I remembered the verses to Led Zeppelin?s ?Southbound Suarez? mixed with an early XTC backing vocal device. Land ho! The punishing journey of trying to find a way to like this album had paid off. I want to go home.

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