by Isaac Shur
Good News For People Who Love Bad News, the fourth studio album from Modest Mouse, was a departure from the group’s earlier work. Lead by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Isaac Brock, the band had just achieved critical acclaim for their previous record The Moon & Antarctica. But where The Moon was more an indie darling, loved by many and heard by less, Goods News proved that the group could achieve a wider appeal while remaining true to their roots.
From the beginning, this album is a mixture of highs and lows in tone, mood, and energy, contrasting with their past work which was mostly subdued. The blaring brass of “Horn Intro” shakes the listener to their core, only to immediately lull them back into the safety of slow, almost shoe-gazey garage rock with “The World At Large.” As Brock muses about leaving the familiar to explore the world, a catchy riff loops in the background as corresponding violin parts are slowly introduced. The riff foreshadows the iconic lead guitar on “Float On,” the band’s most successful song to date. The commercial giant came largely out of left field with its high energy and optimistic tone, both of which are rarely seen on the group’s first three LPs. Between this delectable, catchy riff and Brock’s frantic, almost manic, vocals, “Float On” has cemented itself as a modern classic in the cannon of rock n roll.
But Goods News is far from a collection of polished, formulaic hits, rather it’s a hotbed of unique instrumentation and expert songwriting. The album denies predictability by constantly changing pace, whether with a jarring horn section and some banjo on “This Devil’s Workday,” or the orchestral arrangement accompanied by the sound of a newborn baby on “Interlude (Milo).” Brock demonstrates his storytelling ability on the former song, where he uses gritty, rigid vocals to shed light on a criminal’s unsettling thoughts as he slowly goes mad. Brock also draws on plenty of personal experience in his lyricism, specifically on tracks like “Bukowski.” Although he was raised Christian, Brock is not religious, similar to author Charles Bukowski. Throughout the track, Brock finds himself growing closer to the writer’s atheistic (or at least agnostic) ideas, but questions whether or not this will lead him to a lonesome life, socially isolated from the rest of society (much like Bukowski himself).
When Modest Mouse isn’t dwelling on such lofty and dark musings, they offer high energy, driving cuts. Songs like “Bury Me With It” and “The View” can still get a fierce mosh pit going at a concert. The band is also capable of delivering a different kind of intensity– one that is slower and more deliberate. For instance on “Satin In Coffin,” staccato power chords give the feeling of a death march, reinforced by the repetitious chorus of “Are you dead or are you sleeping? / God, I sure hope you are dead.”
Towards the end of the album, Brock and the band show their calmer side with cuts like “Blame It On The Tetons,” which showcases the group’s stripped back, acoustic side. Meanwhile, the closing track “The Good Times Are Killing Me” perhaps best encapsulates all of the various moods on Good News. Although the song is calm and light-hearted in its instrumentation, its lyrics explore the harmful impact of relying on substances and partying for happiness. The dissonance is enough to make a cursory listen seem as if the song glorifies such practices, but a slightly closer reading shows this isn’t the case: as Brock sings “Fed up with all that LSD / Need more sleep than coke or methamphetamines / Late nights with warm, warm whiskey / I guess the good times they were all just killing me,” the audience can feel the heafty toll Brock’s lifestyle has taken on him.
It’s clear that Modest Mouse is heavily influenced by the ghosts of garage rock past: Pixies, The Velvetunderground, etc. But for rock fans born in the 90s, Modest Mouse is so special because they’re contemporary to our own experiences. Modest Mouse is not a band of the past that has been relegated to legacy reissues of their greatest hits (at least not yet). They’ve managed to endure as a cultural force in a time where hip-hop, R&B, and pop are dominating the charts, and that is truly impressive. One can only hope that they’ll continue their craft, carry on the tradition of rock, and inspire others to do the same.