We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank

Modest Mouse

Epic, 2007

REVIEW BY: Melanie Love

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/08/2007

Only Modest Mouse, in all their oddly appealing, edgy eclecticism, could manage to translate darkly incisive lyrics, jabs of guitar, and lead singer/lyricist Isaac Brock’s near-vicious, growling vocals into commercial success.

2004’s Good News For People Who Love Bad News, featuring the Issaquah, Washington natives’ standout hit “Float On,” could have easily portended the band’s foray into radio-pandering. Thankfully, their latest, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, is anything but watered-down.

Most notably, this disc adds legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr into the mix, resulting in his signature chiming, jangling sound coming to the forefront of these 14 tracks and subtly nudging the band into more innovative directions. While still retaining the band’s prevailingly morose attitude (though somehow it’s always endearingly so), songs like lead single “Dashboard” are unabashedly catchy, with bright proclamations such as “The dashboard melted but we still have the radio” set to swelling strings, throbbing drums and an anxiously upbeat pace. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Meanwhile, opener “March Into The Sea” is immediately explosive, a sort of demented sea-shanty featuring Brock yelping manically as the guitars build to an inexorable climax. Next up, midtempo “Fire It Up” returns to old-school Modest Mouse with a simplistic yet stick-in-your-head chorus and dreamily offbeat lyrics like “It honestly was beautifully bold / Like trying to save an ice cube from the cold.”

“Florida” is the first of three tracks to feature guest vocals by James Mercer of the Shins. Deceptively poppy, “Florida” is definitely single-worthy, combining a lilting chorus with warm, swirling instrumentation as it unexpectedly soars towards a crunching, foreboding conclusion. Mercer appears again on the lush, folksy, “Missed the Boat,” an instant standout that definitely recalls the Shins, and “We’ve Got Everything,” a diversion into INXS territory with pounding drums, abrasive guitars and fist-pumping vocals.

“Fly Trapped In A Jar” is another standout, beginning bristly and jagged-edged and switching halfway through to a slick dance groove, all launched off by Marr’s guitar imitating a fly.  However, from there, the bulk of the second half is slightly underwhelming, falling into the trap of echoing the previous material a bit too closely. Lower-tempo ballads “Little Motel” and “Steam Engenius” are individually decent, albeit play-it-safe, but pairing the two nullifies their impact, and closer “Invisible” packs a punch but is too reminiscent of “We’ve Got Everything” to stand on its own.

We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank showcases the band defying the typical trappings of success to deliver their classic indie sound. Overall, it’s a solid, layered release, one that’s more than definitely worth your time to delve into.

 

Rating: B+

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© 2007 Melanie Love and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Epic, and is used for informational purposes only.