I’m continually trying to wrap my head around the reality that Modest Mouse has become a generational object of nostalgia, because the 2000’s are now more than a decade removed and the OG emo kids are all middle aged now. I’m also bothered that on their last tour Modest Mouse opened for The Black Keys. Now, The Black Keys aren’t terrible, but at best they’re second-rank, a competent entry in the indie rock revival of the 2000’s. Modest Mouse, on the other hand, are one of the most original and important groups of the era, and their particular brand of eclectic rock and salty wit remain unduplicated. They should not, in any world, be in a position of warming up audiences for a generic blues rock band. Getting all wound up about which one of the favorite bands of your youth have slipped in status as they launch big ticket comeback tours is, of course, an emotion well familiar to all the boomers who’ve been grappling with it since Elvis supplanted Chuck Berry in the late 1950’s. Welcome to the “lifestyle” of arguing about things that stopped being relevant to the world decades ago, looking up whatever became of people your own age who are no longer successful, trying to hook up with kids half your age who dress the way you did except for them it’s ‘vintage’, and telling today’s pop music to get off your lawn.
Crude title aside, this is classic Modest Mouse. And since being tetchy and asocial is kind of Isaac Brock’s whole thing, persona-wise, the crude title just ties into the big picture anyway. Modest Mouse has always been music for the slightly maladjusted. Life might rub us the wrong way, and love might be incomprehensible, but we do love a good philosophical musing. There’s a balance between a studied persona of sustained grumpiness and deep-thinking, philosophy-struck intellectualism which is echoed by the musical contrast of aggressive near-atonal noise-rock and pop melodies verging on ethereal. Now that I think about it, everything about Modest Mouse is bi-polar like that. I guess that’s what’s kept them interesting for what’s turned out to be decades.
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.