On A Sinking Ship, Literally Floating On

Shepherd Express | March 20, 2007
Maybe the ship sank because its captain was a drunken pirate. Isaac Brock’s vocals have always been quirk in an endearing Frank Black sort of way, but on the latest Modest Mouse outing they’re downright grotesque—you can practically hear the moonshine-spiked saliva accumulating around his bloated lips before he spits it out during a barked chorus. Detractors claim Modest Mouse went pop for their 2004 breakthrough, but how can anything this indebted to Tom Waits be considered pop?

A second pretty good follow up to their much more ambitious (and infinitely more impressive) major label debut, The Moon and Antarctica, like all Modest Mouse records We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank is overstuffed. It’s overstuffed with songs (15 of them), which themselves are overstuffed with ideas, instruments, movements and lyrics. Even the album title is overstuffed.

As promised by almost too-good-to-be-true pre-press, Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr is onboard for the voyage. He adds some much needed washes of prettiness, but with his concise, minimal guitar work, he has a hard time keeping up with the band. On the record’s hyper-busy, hyper-catchy lead single “Dashboard,” his tiny flourishes are dwarfed by the song’s excesses: the head-nodding post-punk rhythm, the punches of horns, the commanding gusts of disco synths. The gorgeous backing vocals the Shins’ James Mercer adds to several tracks meet a similar fate. Brock just piles these cherries, delicate enough to be a rewarding desert on their own, onto an oddball sundae already overflowing with chocolate syrup and sprinkles. For him, there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, so long as it’s consumed all at once.

Shepherd Express

During a time when most of the country’s prominent alternative weekly newspapers have been consolidated and streamlined by corporations, the Shepherd Express has beat the odds, remaining locally owned. The paper has emerged from its unlikely beginning as a satirical...
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