Thursday, September 1, 2011

Good News For People Who Like Bad News Is A Slightly Derivative, But Enjoyable Album!

The Good: Doesn't sound like any one other artist, Decent mix of songs, Fresh over multiple listens.
The Bad: A little short, Somewhat derivative.
The Basics: An eclectic and wonderful album, Good News For People Who Like Bad News has Modest Mouse presenting itself as a chameleon band.

I absolutely love my local library. It is taxpayer supported and they are an amazing resource for books, c.d.s, and DVDs. My library has an amazing interlibrary loan system which has allowed me to do monthly Artist Of The Month immersions as well as get in c.d.s my wife is looking for. My local library even has high speed internet terminals, which allows me to have a consistent, reliable place to post my reviews from.

I mention all of this at the outset to my review of Modest Mouse's Good News For People Who Like Bad News because this is the latest album the library has hunted down for me (and my wife) via interlibrary loan! Good News For People Who Like Bad News is the first album I've listened to by the band Modest Mouse. It is one of my wife's top five albums of all time and I was excited to be able to get it in for her to listen to again. When we sat down to listen to it, she proudly informed me, "You'll love this; they don't sound like anyone else!"

Well, as always, my wife was right, but not as much as she probably wishes she was. I did enjoy Good News For People Who Like Bad News and the band did not sound like anyone else. However, virtually every track sounds like it came from someone else. "Once Chance" sounds like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, "Dance Hall" sounds like Tom Waits, "Bury Me In It" sounds like The White Stripes, and "The Devil's Workday" sounds like They Might Be Giants, for examples. This, however, did not diminish how much I enjoyed Good News For People Who Like Bad News. In fact, if anything, the derivative style of many other artists I like had the benefit of cutting out the weaknesses of any one of those artists: because the songs sound so different from one another, the listener never gets to feeling like they are listening to a clone band.

With sixteen songs occupying 48:50, Good News For People Who Like Bad News is very much the work of the band Modest Mouse. Isaac Brock, Dann Gallucci and Eric Judy wrote all of the songs and the band plays all of their own instruments. As well, the group does all of their own lead vocals. In fact, the only thing Modest Mouse does not seem to do to create their own sound is produce the album.

Modest Mouse sounds like an alternative pop-rock band, which is what it is. The group most commonly sounds like a guitar/keyboard, bass, and percussion group. "The Good Times Are Killing Me" sounds like a U2 pop anthem while the instrumental "Intro" sounds like a swing/big band opening with trumpets heralding the beginning of the album. The mix is good, never monotonous, though the opening to "Float On" did elicit a glare from my partner when I asked, "Isn't this a Franz Ferdinand song?" The two sound very similar. Even so, the peppy, articulate chiming of "The World At Large" sounds like nothing else and it makes Modest Mouse stand out as a group that is distinctive and original when it is not entirely derivative.

Vocally, the all-male band is led by the vocals of Isaac Brock. He has a smooth, tenor voice which has the ability to be extraordinarily articulate. While his bandmates back him with simple "ah-ah"s, he sings precisely and articulately on "The World At Large." On "Float On," the vocals are smooth, melodic and classy. Brock stays generally comfortably within his range and while "Float On" has an interesting Talking Heads vibe to it, "Bury Me In It" has a much more angry vibe. Regardless of the song, the vocals are surprisingly clear and this enhances the emotional resonance of the songs.

Lyrically, Good News For People Who Like Bad News is generally strong, despite repetitive lines on songs like "The Devil's Workday." While there are three instrumental songs, the lyrics are clearly important to the group and Modest Mouse sings mostly about strange occurrences and social interactions as opposed to just love and/or loss. For example, they tell a little musical storysong when they sing "Your gun went off. / Well you shot off your mouth and look where it got you. / My mouth runs on too. / Shouts from both sides, / ‘Well we've got the land but they've got the view!’ / Well now here's the clue. / Life it rents us. / And yeah I hope it put plenty on you. / Well I hope mine did too" ("The View"). This is hardly typical for a pop-rock group.

The album has a decent sense of melancholy in the lyrics and sound. In fact, it is surprising that the band chooses to end on a downbeat on "The Good Times Are Killing Me." But that song stands out because it characterizes melancholy so very well. With lines like "Got dirt, got air, got water and I know you can carry on. / Shrug off shortsighted false excitement and oh what can I say? / Have one, have twenty more ‘one mores’ and oh it does not relent. / The good times are killing me" ("The Good Times Are Killing Me"), the band clearly makes an emotional rollarcoaster of a song which resonates even over many listens.

The songs are not all lyrical winners, but they certainly have something to say. Even though they produce over many of the lyrics to "Blame It On The Tetons," the listener can hear "Blame it on the weekends. God I need a cola now. / Oh we mumble loudly, wear our shame so proudly. / Wore our blank expressions, trying to look interesting. / Blame it all on me cuz God I need a cold one now." It's not always inspired, but what it lacks in amazing originality or writing, holds up with the sound of the music.

All in all, Good News For People Who Like Bad News is a good pop-rock album that holds up even after half a decade. Anyone who likes decent guitar or keyboard driven pop rock but is sick of love songs is likely to find something on this album they will enjoy.

The best song is "Bury Me With It," the instrumental interlude "Dig Your Grave" does not hold up as well.

For other esoteric music groups, please visit my reviews of:
Then: The Early Years - They Might Be Giants
God Shuffled His Feet - Crash Test Dummies
Icon - Imogen Heap & Frou Frou


For other music reviews, please visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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