This is as good a facsimile of a Tom Waits song that anyone has ever recorded, and ‘fake Tom Waits’ is almost its own genre. That’s a compliment. Modest Mouse has managed to get some hit songs on the radio, but deep – or not that deep, really – down inside, they’re hopeless eccentrics. So much so that one wonders how can someone so weird become so popular. Enough consumers apparently have good taste to allow at least a few confirmed weirdos to make a career of it, and if that doesn’t restore some measure of faith in humanity, I don’t know, go watch a cat video or something. Personally, I still find humanity pretty suspect, but discovering Modest Mouse – well after they became widely successful, because I’m a square, apparently – did help restore my faith in pop culture. It ain’t dead, you know.
“We don’t belong here, we were just born here”
This kind of angst is exactly what we go to Modest Mouse for. Feeling slightly displaced in the world has been their grand theme from the beginning. It doesn’t seem to be getting any better with age, either. Lots of people who start out full of angst and fire mellow out over the years. Most do, in fact. Either because they genuinely become happier people, or because they realize that you can’t sell yourself as an angry young ‘un when you’re over 35. However, Isaac Brock appears to have a very real case of misanthropy that isn’t a posture and isn’t about to go away. Maybe there’s a middle-age slump on the way, some ill-advised attempts to stay relevant, a bad new haircut. Maybe he just needs to have a baby to make him see how life is a beautiful miracle and every moment is precious. Maybe ten years from now Modest Mouse will be a pastiche of themselves playing ‘The 2000’s Revue” in Las Vegas.
This weird little number is my favorite song from the new Modest Mouse album. It’s my favorite, obviously, because it’s the weirdest. Now, I loved the new Modest Mouse album. But I also heard the criticism that it wasn’t nearly weird enough. That’s a valid point; compared to their early work, it wasn’t very weird. It just sounds like a Modest Mouse album, of which there have been enough that we’ve become used to what Modest Mouse sounds like and are now desensitized to how weird the Modest Mouse sound really is even at their most radio friendly. When you delve into it, though, you may recall that Modest Mouse is actually one of the most gratifyingly weird bands to ever enjoy semi-mainstream success in this weirdness-averse godforsaken country. So basically, you gotta take your critical consensus with a grain of salt. Look at the big picture. Take in the broader context. And this song is just genuinely bizarre. Should’ve been, could’ve been the lead single. It would sell!
Oh, and by the way, does the name A. Cunanan ring a bell? It certainly does for me. Andrew Cunanan was the serial killer who murdered Gianni Versace.
And now, your daily Three Minutes of Alienation, courtesy of Modest Mouse. Alienation can then slide into petulance. I don’t give a damn about you or this town, either, so there. It’s not something we ever grow out of, either, though petulant angst is most often associated with adolescence. I mean, I’m a lot more mature than I was when I first listened to this record, but I still feel the same things about it. Namely, at last here is a voice I can relate to as a brainy person with a lot of words who thrives on being frustrated with the alien landscape around me. Here, at last, is a record that’s not about the usual dumb shit. That was, let me remind you, nearly 17 years ago, but the usual dumb shit is still the norm, and Modest Mouse still provides that rare reprieve from it. Of course, a great many great people have been content to write boy-meets-girl songs for year after year, and what’s wrong with that? But it’s also nice to put on a record where the singer’s love life isn’t the topic of conversation, but his intellectual life very much is.
Typical depressing Modest Mouse. This is, like every Modest Mouse song, about alienation and the search for connection. Or, you could look at is as the opposite. You can see it as kind of uplifting. As in, the only place worth being is where the people we care about are. Also, try to unpack the video while you’re at it. Modest Mouse have a great track record for surreal video that are equal parts comical and disturbing. This one seems to have a lot to say about love, prejudice and ecology. In fact, those are pretty heavy handed themes. But it’s also a little funny in its weirdness. It’s on point with the theme of finding someplace or someone to belong to, and how hard that is, and how weird.
Another lovely song about death. Is every Modest Mouse song about metaphysical angst? Sure seems like it. It’s hard to think of a songwriter less interested in the usual about-a-girl stuff than Isaac Brock. Relationships are almost everybody’s biggest theme, even the most misanthropic people haters’. But almost every Modest Mouse song is about something existential. If it’s not about straight-up dying, it’s about how much life sucks, or how much Isaac Brock hates people, or how much Isaac Brock hates himself. I get the feeling he’s probably not the most fun guy spend a lot of time with; one of those people whose head you really wouldn’t want to get inside. On the other hand, it makes Modest Mouse one of the most uniquely rewarding bands of our time. You can explore their records again and again, for years and years. You can always enjoy the friction of uptempo and gloom.
“Laugh hard, it’s a long ways to the bank.” – the words of a man making his first major label record. Sounds like Isaac Brock had some ambivalent feelings about impending success, but that didn’t stop Modest Mouse making the journey from indie-darling to almost-mainstream. According to my non-scientific field research, The Moon & Antarctica is very nearly everyone’s favorite Modest Mouse record, or certainly one of everyone’s favorites, however you want to parse the data. For a lot of us who didn’t have easy access to the independent-music scene, it was our first Modest Mouse record, so you see, the financial/promotional muscle of a major label still has its uses in this world. That was 16 years ago – if you wanna suddenly feel very old – and the beginning of a run of really great albums that defined the decade.