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Title Says It All
on April 9, 2004
While this album has its moments, there is a decided commercial and pop sensibility to the music, a melodic cohesion and simplicity that should appeal to a broader base of listeners, but is unlikely to thrill or impress advocates of Modest Mouse's earlier albums. As others have suggested, the album does grow on you, but it is hardly a substitute for the creative brilliance or willingness to bare or push musical boundaries found on This is a Long Way to Drive..., Lonesome Crowded West, Building Nothing Out of Something, or Moon Over Antarctica. The constantly shifting musical motifs are largely absent, as is a sense of the unexpected. And the lyrics have lost their oblique and multiple interpretation, instead becoming direct and at times even banal, as on the songs Dance Hall or Bukowski.
The midpoint to this album is unmemorable, and seriously intrudes on what otherwise might be viewed as a superior commercial pitch: Dance Hall, with its cheesy organ chords reminiscent of Danny Elfman in Hollywood decline (The Clash never would have touched it); Bukowski's largely one-dimensional musical score; the purely derivative The Devil's Workday, covered long ago -- and much better -- by Tom Waits and Smoke; The View, which is marred by cheap eighties techno overlays not even worthy of reference to Talking Heads; and the mixed Satin in the Coffin, which opens like a Johnny Horton ballad. Other songs, such as Blame It On the Tetons, while pretty, fails to really distinguish itself from any number of other sweetly chorded ballads by numerous traditional country and rock imitations. And Black Cadillacs sounds like just another well done rock anthem.
The remaining songs on the album offer glimpses of earlier brilliance and sparks of creativity, especially on the final The Good Times Are Killing Me. And the overlay of instrumentals and sound effects often remain inspired. But overall, the songs, while eminently listenable, remain, compared to much of their earlier work, one-dimensional. As someone else has said, this album is better than 90% of the other tripe out there, but its essentially commercial pedigree cannot be ignored.
As far as those claiming this is a masterpiece or the best Modest Mouse album ever, depending upon one's musical tastes and background, suppose this album could be construed as such; fan is, after all, short for fanatic. But those that adore this album needn't really worry: all will be forgiven as mainstream record sales soar. And why shouldn't Brock and the boys make some decent money? They're far more deserving than most, and for a time gave us some memorable music that will remain long after this album is forgotten.