“I pack up my belongings and I head for the coast/It might not be a lot but I feel like I’m making the most.”
The horn intro. Where is this going? This was, back in 2004, after months of excited anticipation the first full-length Modest Mouse release to hit the stores since their 2000 masterpiece The Moon & Antarctica. Where Good News For People Who Love Bad News goes from there is straight into one of the albums finest tracks, “The World at Large”. But the mood has changed; Isaac Brock seems more withdrawn, more settled within himself, as opposed to his lashing out, yearning-for-escape phase of The Lonesome Crowded West; the more philosophical musings of the aforementioned The Moon & Antarctica; or the halfway-house of Building Something Out of Nothing.
Then to “Float On”, the song that brought on board a shed-load of new supporters yet alienated some existing ones. The groundbreaking soundscapes of the previous album were replaced, in part, by accessible indie-rock songs and many perceived it as one of their favourite bands ‘selling out’. Sure, they polished up the aesthetic a little more and added some poppy overtones but there was still enough inventive song-craft, lyrical gems and downright excellent songs to get me excited after the first listen. Regardless of whether the band was right to go in this direction or not, “Float On” is still infectious a track now as it when the album was released.
“The Ocean Breaths Salty” continues the more accessible nature of the release before run of five songs that show that the band is still as inventive as ever. From ‘Dig Your Grave” through ‘The Devil’s Workday’, plus the fantastic ‘Satin in a Coffin’ two tracks later, Modest Mouse return to something resembling their more experimental tendencies. It is also within this range of tracks that some of the album’s best moments take place.
“Bukowski” sees Brock break out the banjo and contemplate that his existence is becoming more and more like the famous writer with every passing day before parting with the genius lines of: ‘Yeah, I know he’s a pretty good read/But God who’d wanna be/God who’d wanna be such an asshole?’. We are then treated to more classic Brock musings, as he accuses God of being a control-freak.
The final side of the record, again, lends itself to the more accessible side of Modest Mouse and sees Isaac Brock at his most reflective on the album in “Blame it on the Tetons”, “One Chance” and, capping off the album’s themes perfectly, “The Good Times Are Killing Me”. The latter not only has one of the catchiest hooks the band has ever composed, it again exemplifies the lyrical talent of Brock.
All-in-all, Good News… is not as strong as the albums mentioned in the opening paragraphs and definitely marked a stark stylistic change from the band. They experimented with their raw, lo-fi indie sound, progressing towards their peak in The Moon & Antarctica. Some would argue that the band turned their back on their experimental, lo-fi roots and sold out to the masses with their sugary indie-pop.
My perspective is that if you look beyond Modest Mouse singles from the release, you’ll find enough outstanding songwriting, experimentation and character to warrant repeated listens. Yes the album as a whole may weaker than some of their previous efforts, but following up a masterpiece cannot be easy.