Not bad. Just ... different. That's probably the best way to describe the hugely anticipated new album from Modest Mouse, and if you're a long-time disciple of Isaac Brock and his addictive, immensely talented indie-pop ministry, you can probably guess what that means.
If not, though, here's a hint: Gone from these 15 songs, sadly, is much of the sing-a-long poetry that's been the foundation of nearly all Modest Mouse records past. Gone, as well, is much of the tongue-twisting lyricism that made records like Interstate 8 feel like puzzles to be solved, slowly, over long months. And gone, surprisingly, is nearly all the existential whining and the pouting, pity-me negativity that Brock and Co. have, in essence, been hanging their identity on for more than a decade.
Consider these lyrics, for instance, from "Bukowski," one of the album's strongest tracks: "Yeah I know he's a pretty good read / But god, who'd want to be such an asshole?"
All this, you ask, from a guy who once sang that his only "art" was fucking people over?
The deal, as far as I can tell, is that Brock has simply weathered his celebrity well, which is maybe something of a mixed blessing for a musician whose work is synonymous with irreverence and measured chaos.
But semantics aside, how does the music sound? Well, considering that banjos are everywhere on Good News, and that the Dirty Dozen Brass Band was brought on board to lend the album its horns, it's ... average. And not sophomore-slump average, but rather a weary, weathered average, as if the batteries had been slowly drained after years of guitar wizardry and unexpected tempo changes.
Of the rest of the disc, exactly three songs are phenomenal, another four are quite good, and the rest fairly forgettable. For your average rock band, that's something to brag about, but if you've never before experienced a Modest Mouse album, you'd do well to start with The Lonesome Crowded West, and to work your way up from there. Old fans, of course, will be lined up to buy Good News post-haste, as well they should. This is a unique album, to put it gingerly, but don't expect it to change your life. And don't feel guilty if -- like me -- you find yourself hoping that Brock's neurosis takes a final bow on next year's record, before it disappears forever.