Modest Mouse - The Lonesome Crowded West
Record Label: Up Records
Release Date: November 18, 1997
Modest Mouse is an indie rock band formed way back in 1993 in Issaquah, Washington. Over the last decade, their style has evolved into a more poppy and mainstream sound. With singles "Float On,""Ocean Breathes Salty,""Dashboard," and others, paired with SNL appearances and Grammy nominations their popularity in the mainstream has also grown.
Unfortunately, this change in style and increase in popularity have not necessarily been matched with an increase in the quality of their music. While the two new albums, Good News For People Who Love Bad News and We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank, and the EP No One's First and You're Next, are good in their own right, most people would argue that their earlier work stands head and shoulders above it.
The Lonesome Crowded West is one of those earlier works, and definitely one of their best. It is dark and full of pessimism, with topics ranging from religion to lamentations about civilization's advance and the doomed state of humanity. Every part of this record is excellent, from the jagged, jumpy guitars, to the rhythmic drumming, to frontman Isaac Brock's yelps, croons, and beautifully sad lyrics.
Religion is explored and decried often. In the very measured beats of Jesus Christ was an only child, Brock expounds on the failure of religion in a today's technological society and the anger of God. God comes up again in "Cowboy Dan," the tale of a man saddened by the encroachment of civilization on his beloved West. There is nothing he can do though, so, "He goes to the reservation, drinks and gets mean/ He drove to the desert, fired his rifle in the sky/ And said, "God, if I have to die, you will have to die." Then, in the clever finale "Styrofoam Boots/It's All Nice on Ice, Alright," Brock has a conversation with a man who says,:
"'Every time anyone gets on their knees to pray well, it makes my telephone ring
And I'll be damned' he said, "'You were right no one's running this whole thing'
He had a theory, too
He said that God takes care of himself, God takes care of himself, and you of you"
Brock uses his lyrical mastery to explore many other topics though. In the metaphor riddled "Heart Cooks Brain," a slower song that reels you in with repetitive guitar riffs, the always-troubled Brock sings of how the heart and brain cause trouble for each other, and when he tries to clear his head, "I push things out through my mouth/ But get refilled through my ears." In the fun but dark song "Doin' the Cockroach," he compares us to cockroaches, running around our whole lives accomplishing nothing of real meaning. And in one of my personal favorites, "Out of Gas," he gets drunk and tells those on their high horses that "You will come down soon too."
In addition to cynicism and sarcasm, there is also genuine sadness in some of these songs. "Trailer Trash" is a ballad about being poor and unprivileged, and really tugs on the heart strings, as cliche as that is. Many can surely relate to this song, with it's references to divorce, loss, high school, and being a jerk. Self'-loathing is often addressed along with sadness, and is the main emotion in the song "Polar Opposites," where Brock croons that, "I'm trying to drink away the part of the day that I cannot sleep away."
One of the best lyrics comes in the excellent and fun, but overly long, Trucker's atlas, when Brock spouts "I don't feel and it feels great." Another lyrical gem is the incredibly mellow "Bankrupt on Selling." Here, like on "Trailer Trash," Brock takes a break from the yelping goes with a softer crooning, relying on the lyrics and the mood to create emotion in this song. One standout lyric:
"Well, I'll go to college and I'll learn some big words
And I'll talk real loud, goddamn right I'll be heard
You'll remember the guy who said all those big words
He must have learned in college."
And "Shit Luck" is about, well, shit luck. It's frantic and crazy and a really fun song.
This is a very long album, but it is also incredible. Full of cynicism and dark humor, it is nevertheless beautiful and touching. From the first chaotic notes of the schizophrenic "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine" to the final rocking rhythms of "Styrofoam Boots," this album never disappoints.
I thought about bringing up the ratings a bit to get it up to a 94 or 95%, but then decided screw it, I'll just leave it. Second review I've ever written, figured I'd go with something familiar that I love so that even if the review wasn't that good, it would still be somewhat knowledgeable.
I love this band, hopefully we'll get some new material and a tour soon. We may never get the Modest Mouse of this time again, but I will always love them even if the new stuff isn't nearly as great.
Isaac Brock is the greatest lyricist to ever walk this earth. I agree that they're going a little downhill with their newer stuff like Good News and We Were Dead and their old stuff is MUCH better, but i think No One's First was a step towards their older and more experimental sound. They lost their playfulness as they aged but their newest material is going in the right direction.