Imagine Tom Waits as an indie rock mad scientist and you’re halfway there. There’s really no accurate way to describe Isaac Brock’s brainchild that is Modest Mouse. And now with the addition of ex-Smiths guitar virtuoso Johnny Marr, they’ve become damn near unstoppable.
After hitting it big with the single “Float On” from 2004’s Good News for People Who Love Bad News, Brock and company could have easily rested on their laurels, but Brock being the mad scientist he is, uses those laurels as a starting point.
We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank feels like such a natural and organic record, even amidst all the studio trickery. A mellow track like “Fire it Up” segues into the soaring rocker “Florida” with such ease, it’s not jarring at all. From another band the horn section and disco strings on “Dashboard” would seem out of place, even pretentious, but with Modest Mouse, it seems only logical for the song to progress in such a fashion.
As a lyricist, Brock is as intriguing as ever, both up front and mysterious. Brock’s musings on life throughout the album are wonderfully tied together with a nautical themes and imagery, from the ship of the album’s title to multiple references to boats and oceans.
The band’s fifth full length record is probably their most consistent to date, and one could attribute that to the addition of Marr, whose beautiful and subtle textures contribute to the album’s two best cuts “Missed the Boat” and the haunting “Little Motel”. Marr’s presence is more than welcome too on the terrific and epic “Spitting Venom”.
However at 14 tracks and over 60 minutes We Were Dead can be a lot to take in one sitting, and tracks like “Fly Trapped in a Jar” and “Education” may be too quirky for their own good. As well, aside from the incessantly catch “Dashboard”, there is no clear “Float On” on this album, but it’s not that kind of album and Modest Mouse are not that kind of band. We Were Dead is never dull, and there is always something more to unearth with each listen.