Opinions about Modest Mouse are as numerous and far-reaching as definitions of what “emo” is. And no, that’s not redundant. Face it, everyone has an opinion about Modest Mouse — some positive, some negative and some just plain silly. Fans can be fanatical, owning every record with any connection to Isaac Brock and every color of that buffalo t-shirt. Those who care not for Modest Mouse have said they’re one of the more boring bands out there. Some have criticized the band as being a lousy live act. And some have even confused them with Rusted Root, which is understandable, but still inexcusable.
Well, four years after The Moon and Antarctica, the breakthrough album that wasn’t (but still worth a listen), the Issaquah natives have emerged from several failed recording attempts with a record that truly delivers something for everyone — even the most unwavering Mouse critics.
Good News For People Who Love Bad News is the record that we all knew the band was capable of but never recorded. Brock’s signature lispy wail is still there, as well as his unmistakable tweaked-out tremolo guitar harmonics. But what sets Good News apart from, say, The Lonesome Crowded West is that this is a pop record. The songs actually have choruses for once. Sure, “Paper Thin Walls” and “Polar Opposites” did, but they were rare exceptions to Modest Mouse’s extended multiple-bridge/ no chorus pattern.
“The World at Large,” a lighthearted cousin to Moon‘s “3rd Planet,” opens the album slowly and majestically before giving way to first single, “Float On.” This song shows a newly funky, Talking Heads-ish side to the band and Brock’s freshly optimistic view of life: “Bad news comes don’t you worry even when it lands/Good news will work its way to all them plans.”
“Bury Me With It” is characteristically anthemic and contains some of the best lyrics of Brock’s career: “well the point was quick but too blunt to miss/life handed us a paycheck/we said `we worked harder than this!’” And furthermore, it’s a loud, awesome rock song.
Good News introduces more than just catchy choruses into the mix. “The View” and “This Devil’s Workday” contain brass accompaniment. And “Bukowski” and “Satin in a Coffin,” two of the best songs on the album, are prime examples of how a banjo is really meant to be heard.
The album closes with “The Good Times Are Killing Me,” a whimsical, yet heavy-handed tune about drug addiction made sublime with a little assistance by The Flaming Lips. It’s a strange way to wrap up an otherwise optimistic set of music, but irresistible as it is, it just plain sounds right.
No longer second banana to Built to Spill, emo jam band or over-indulgent guitar geeks, Modest Mouse have made something that’s impossible to dislike. Because even the sternest of indie snobs would be hard-pressed to find fault with music this good.
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Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.