Release Date: Mar 20, 2007
Record label: Sony
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
When Modest Mouse first emerged in the mid-’90s, it would have been a brave man who bet the farm — or even a chicken — on the Issaquah, Wash., outfit ever becoming platinum artists. It was clear that singer Isaac Brock and his band could write a tune. That was amply demonstrated by their second collection, 1997’s The Lonesome Crowded West, and, in particular, ”Polar Opposites,” a remarkably beautiful lament about drinking by someone who, by all accounts, knows of what he speaks.
Nothing Johnny Marr has done since the Smiths would suggest there was much cause for excitement in him joining another band. But that was before he encountered Isaac Brock. The Modest Mouse frontman has the kind of overbearing personality that seems to bring out the best in Marr: their collaboration on the band's fifth album is thrilling. On Dashboard, the song they wrote within days of hooking up, the guitars sound like they're duelling, two steely riffs fighting to dominate the restless pop that surrounds them.
Now that Modest Mouse have fully established themselves as a major-label indie rock band -- no longer an oxymoron! -- with the success of 2004's Good News for People Who Love Bad News (though they had actually been on Sony, through Epic, since 2000's The Moon & Antarctica), they face the difficult task of trying to follow up a mainstream hit while still retaining the adroit quirkiness that won them fans in the first place. Finding that space between "creativity" and "accessibility" is not easy, but the band (with help from Johnny Marr, among others) is probably as well, if not better, equipped as anyone to tackle the challenge. The first single, "Dashboard," is catchy and interesting, even a little off-kilter, but it's also completely radio-friendly, in that dancey Franz Ferdinand kind of way, and the album's opener, "March into the Sea," has great juxtaposition between Isaac Brock's maniacal Cookie Monster laugh and lighter accordion and string work.
Modest Mouse has pulled off the near impossible with its sixth full-length and third major label release: The Issaquah, Wash., sextet has managed to retain its edgy, proto-emo dynamics while availing itself of a more mainstream audience. Case in point: "Dashboard," the first single, is a solid pop song with mass appeal that still sports a sly fray. Meanwhile, "Parting of the Sensory" is pure Isaac Brockian strangeness, ending in a lisped, near a cappella chant that rattles the brainpan.