The Lonesome Crowded West
REVIEW BY: Brian Birnbaum
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 10/30/2006
1997. What the hell came out in 1997 besides OK Computer and U2's Pop? Well, The Lonesome Crowded West did, the sophomore release from indie rockers Modest Mouse. Before this disc, not many people knew about the band, and after this disc... well, people still didn't know much about this band. That's the fun of indie rock.
This is Modest Mouse’s best effort. Musically, it isn’t really that much better than The Moon And Antarctica or Good News For People Who Love Bad News, but it is such a cohesive effort that it exceeds both of those. Themes of apathy and cynicism appear pretty much throughout the entire album consistently. I know, these themes don’t sound too appealing, but if the Who's devastating Tommy can be a classic, why can’t The Lonesome Crowded West?
Well, it’s not a classic, but it is pretty damn good. Besides “Lounge (Closing Time),” all of the songs are at least solid, which is good, but sometimes you feel there should just be a little more. The only exception to this is “Polar Opposites,” a harrowing tune in which the chorus consists of “I'm trying, I’m trying / To drink away the part of the day / That I cannot sleep away.” The lyrics are excellent and maintain the intransigency of the themes on this album as well. Lyrics aside, it is the music that steals the show here. The double guitars mold out a beautiful melody, reminiscent of early Pavement, and the bassline is gorgeously melodic. My only complaint is that it is too short.
Besides “Lounge (Closing Time),” which is a little dull, problems arise because of a lack of musical ambition. Thematically and lyrically, lead singer Isaac Brock shoots for the moon (or wherever his drugs were taking him). He really does create a masterpiece of poetic art that is rarely seen in rock music today, but the band just doesn't follow suit. Don’t get me wrong, there is some catchy music here, but it never really reaches beyond capable, especially with the guitars. Perfect example: On “Polar Opposites” there is a bridge at about the 0:54 mark that changes up the atmosphere of the song while still staying true to the melody, and it works perfectly. It’s not much, but it really takes the song to another level. They should have experimented a little more with things like this.
With their new releases, Modest Mouse has brought in a tiny bit more of a commercial sound. You got that sense when you heard “Float On” and “Ocean Breathes Salty” hit the radio stations hard back in 2004. Although some hardcore fans may have disliked this, I thought that it gave them a new edge. I do, however, think that they sacrificed some of their songwriting for that sound, and by combining this new edge with what they did on The Lonesome Crowded West, they could have an album to be reckoned with.
One final note: do not buy this album if all you know is "Float On." Like Pavement and Sebadoh, this is pure indie rock, a good deal different than what you heard on the radio. It's not worse than those tracks, but it's the kind of music that takes four or five spins to really absorb. For those who love indie rock, this will be a delight, but for those who don't have the patience, keep your money and buy Good News For People Who Love Bad News instead.