We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank
Ah, Modest Mouse. The band from Issaquah, Washington that every college radio DJ had on their show in the ’90s. They tried to convince you how much they always loved the band to establish some indie cred.
The last time I went to a Modest Mouse concert I tried to pull off the ‘Yeah, I’ve loved them since the first album’ bit so I wouldn’t be dismissed as another bandwagon fan, but the idea that I’d been analyzing Isaac Brock’s lyrics when I was 8 was less than believable.
Truth is, I first stumbled onto MoMo a couple of years ago when the band hit the mainstream with its fourth full-length album ‘Good News For People Who Love Bad News,’ mainly with a catchy little jingle called ‘Float On.’
It hooked me, and I spent that year scraping every piece of Modest Mouse I could find. While ‘Good News’ drew me in, its prior material was what made me a huge fan. So, with its newest album ‘We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank,’ ready and its audiences waiting, would it revert to the raw or stick with the polished?
The opening track, ‘March Into the Sea,’ feels like guitarist Brock is commandeering a ship into treacherous waters without really caring if he goes down with it.
Soft melodies crash with Brock’s aggressive screams for a solid opening track. This leaves the listener optimistic but the next few songs rarely hit and more frequently miss.
‘Dashboard’ has a very catchy guitar part revving it up but it loses steam as it drags on for four long minutes with that single riff practically driving the entire thing.
‘Fire It Up’ is simply boring and repetitive. ‘Florida’ starts off as if Brock had scared himself by how bad the previous track was, but then James Mercer comes out of nowhere and makes it a Shins’ song. Mercer’s vocals are soft and work for his band, The Shins (who changed your life while you watched ‘Garden State’), but this is Modest Mouse.
Mercer also appears on ‘Missed the Boat’ and ‘We’ve Got Everything,’ two more poor tracks on the album. It seems like every time Brock is about to revert to traditional Modest Mouse style, Mercer restricts him.
‘Education’ is reminiscent of ‘Wild Pack of Family Dogs’ off of ‘The Moon and Antarctica,’ but the beauty of that track is that it is just Brock, an acoustic guitar and some scary lyrics, while ‘Education’ needs the rest of the band. Johnny Marr, a Britpop guitarist from the Smiths, joins Modest Mouse on this album.
The Smiths seem like the antithesis of Modest Mouse’s sound, and whenever Marr’s guitar work is noticeable, he bogs down the sound of the Washington band rather than let them loose.
In-between these tracks are a couple of gems. ‘Parting of the Sensory’ catches a fragile Brock at his best, as he slowly lets out with all his anger. ‘Fly Trapped In a Jar’ digresses here and there, but has a very memorable riff that comes along just often enough to catch the listener’s attention.
The last five tracks save this album from being a complete disappointment. ‘Little Motel’ finds Brock in an introspective mood. Following this is the funky ‘Steam Engenius,’ with one of the more memorable Modest Mouse choruses.
‘People As Places As People’ is this album’s ‘The Ocean Breathes Salty.’ The lyrics are beautiful and Brock shows he can still write songs like no other.
He gently sings, ‘Always something we look for / From the day we were born / Instead we’re the people that we wanted to know / And we’re the places that we wanted to go.’
The album closes on perhaps the best song, ‘Invisible.’ This song catches the band at its peak, similar to how ‘What People Are Made Of’ closed ‘The Moon and Antarctica.’
While the closing stretch definitely redeemed the album to a certain degree, ‘We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank’ still remains a disappointment.
I’m sure ‘Dashboard’ will be catchy enough to gain fans just as ‘Float On’ did, and to those people this shiny album will be great. But having been spoiled by all of Modest Mouse’s great material before, this album is mediocre at best and probably its worst album to date.