“As life gets longer / Awful feels softer / Well it feels pretty soft to me.” When Isaac Brock admits that things are starting to brighten in the chorus of “The View,” his nasal, post-punk strain sounds more like hopeful Wayne Coyne than aggressive Wayne Cramer. “Satin in a Coffin,” the very next track, bases it’s structure on the lyric “Are you dead? / Or are you sleeping? / God, I sure hope you are dead.” Go figure.
The key to Good News for People Who Love Bad News is to ignore expectations. Even the buzz around Modest Mouse’s latest album is surprising, as anyone who’s seen commercials for the new album or heard first single “Float On” on commercial radio will attest. Despite claims that this is Modest Mouse’s most accessible record to date, which it is, it’s still by no means the type of album that should logically smash through mainstream success. What amounts to traditional songs wind up arriving in bizarre form—I’m not sure I can take any song named “Blame It on the Tetons” seriously, but it’s hard to deny Brock when the words sound so sincere.
“Float On” and “The View” display a brilliantly optimistic side of the band, the latter schizophrenically alternating Gang of Four verses and shimmering choruses complete with delayed guitars and hearty backup vocals. Brock has noted that the new direction the band head in on Good News was a conscious decision, albeit one that resulted more from a sense of defeat—the world is shit, lamenting over it won’t help—rather then any changes in polarity. Good News picks at the same themes that Modest Mouse have always concentrated on—humanity, mortality, religion—but the maturation that began musically on The Moon and Antarctica continues here and is met with lyrics that are indicative of at least a slight skepticism and perhaps the beginning of a change of heart for one of indie’s most stereotypically pessimistic frontmen. That said, this is far from a perfect effort. “Bukowski” and “Dance Hall” are draining, and “This Devil’s Workday” drives the faux-Waits sound into the ground.
It seems Brock is beginning to realize that it’s okay to admit the shortcomings of your youth, many great songwriters have written many great songs about figuring out the complexities of life with age. “The Good Times are Killing Me” drives perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the old Modest Mouse and the band’s oft-publicized love of drink and drugs. With help from The Flaming Lips, “The Good Times are Killing Me” blows like a sweet breeze. When Brock sings that he’s “Fed up with all that LSD / Need more sleep than coke or methamphetamines / Late nights with warm, warm whiskey / I guess the good times they were all just killing me,” he sounds completely satisfied and absolutely convincing.
Out of all of the indie-rock elder statesmen [Elder? They’ve only been around since the mid-90s – Ed.], it’s shocking that Isaac Brock and Modest Mouse have become the group best poised to step into another class of band. Good News for People Who Love Bad News shows a band growing, and more importantly, reflects a songwriter who is shedding the insecurities of youth. Call it somewhat of an awkward phase, but seeing Isaac Brock step into such an unexpected role as displayed in the warmth of Good News is a testament to what makes music so constantly gratifying and suprising.