It’s nearly impossible to define what makes a road CD a road CD. What makes an album perfect for traversing space in a car, bus, or train? What could possibly link albums like “Let It Bleed,” “Blood on the Tracks” “Meiso” By DJ Krush, The Guns ‘N Roses live album, and my Skatelites back catalog, if not their ability to not only improve long car rides, but make them seem inviting? I would not have previously put Modest Mouse into this category. Albums like “Lonesome Crowded West,” and “The Fruit That Ate Itself” were unquestionable brilliant for the most part, but they were also too fragmented, too varied, and too contradictory to be good driving music. Modest Mouse never was a band that made road CDs.
So I drove over to the local chain merchant today where they were advertising “Good News For People Who Love Bad News” for a measly 7.99, I picked up a copy, argued about the price for 5 minutes with a salesperson who wanted to charge me 13.99, got it for 7.99, and went back to my car to make the 10 minute drive back to my house. Lest to say, that 10 minute drive turned into a near hour-long trek around my home country, from the malls of Paramus to the wannabe skyscrapers of Fort Lee to the industrial wasteland of Ridgefield Park right to the beginning of what could’ve been a long trek- the starting point of the stretch of highway known as route 80, which traverses the country, east to west. Modest Mouse have released an album that doesn’t just “work” while you’re driving - it begs to be listened to in the car, with the passing backdrops changing as the resigned and worn out vocals and lyrics of Isaac Brock carry the driver away.
Perhaps this album is different than other Modest Mouse releases because its scope is smaller. The band still genre jumps with ease, from the Tom Waits/Pogues dirge of “The Devil’s Workday” to the upfront funk rock of first single, “Float On” to the confessional ballad, “One Chance,” but it does it with smoother production, tighter, simpler drumming (thanks to new skinsman Benjamin Weikel), and with an underlying sense of melody. Lyrically, the band revisits the themes of “Polar Opposites’” “I’m trying to drink away the part of the day that I cannot sleep away,” on several tracks, including the thoughtful “The World at Large” which contains the brilliant couplet “I like songs about drifters- books about the same. They both seem to help me feel a little less insane.” Despite a confidence in the musical composition of this album, the lyrics are still the same off-kilter self deprecation you’ve come to expect from Brock. The insecurity seeps from the songs, on the repetition of “I don’t know” in the glazed over rock “Ocean Breathless Salty” or elsewhere in the plaintive “Blame It On The Tetons” where Brock with its summation of “god, I need a scapegoat now.” The songs may be poppier, but that in no way translates to a decrease in quality.
I remember in a review I wrote of Sad Sappy Sucker, an EP the band released a few years ago, that I started the review with a uber-pretentious stream of conscience style passage where no word related to the one before it. I followed it up by saying if you say any unity in it, then you’d probably find some similarity between the bipolar nature of the tracks on the EP. On Good News, thanks in no small part to the production, the album works like a cross country trip, (perhaps a long drive for someone with nothing to think about... get it? Eh, screw off.), with each varying track being a different skyline or exit or main street, a portrait of one of the most unique sounding bands currently making music in America, and the perfect soundtrack to your next car trip.