Good News For People Who Love Bad News

“Float On” was such a mindfuck at the time. At this point, Modest Mouse is unquestioningly accepted as part of an easily digestible indie industrial complex, a band whose jagged edges have been shaved into smooth contours by time, money, and inertia. But those edges were plenty sharp when Modest Mouse began. In their earliest incarnation as passionately beloved mid-’90s underground rockers, these guys were absolutely rabid — squirming ghost moans for guitars, drunken stomach punches for drums, and in Isaac Brock, an unhinged lead singer whose manic episodes surged from defeated whimpers to feral growls. Brock’s narratives of a dead-end existence amidst strip malls and forests positioned him as Washington’s most evocative chronicler of hopeless white trash despair since you know who. These were guys who sang about long-distance drunk driving, who talked shit about pretty sunsets, who once bragged to Pitchfork in some now-deleted interview about driving around looking for stray dogs to run over. They were mean and depressed and out of control. But little by little, album after album, they kept evolving into a tamer, more approachable beast, albeit a beast that always remained unmistakably weird. As tends to happen with artists whose music cuts to the core of so many human beings, a portion of the band’s original fan base was alienated by that transformation. To this day there are purists who jumped ship with 2000′s sprawling, glassy-eyed opus The Moon And Antarctica, much to the consternation of those of us who came on board at that point and still consider Moon to be Modest Mouse’s masterpiece. But even we zealots for the band’s art-damaged hi-fi major-label phase were taken aback when the guys who made “Shit Luck” released a willfully peppy major-key ditty about looking on the bright side, an airy frolic that made it all the way to American Idol, Kidz Bop, and, tragically, late-period Lupe Fiasco. “What the fuck is this?” we all wondered before loading it onto our iPods and bopping along.

Upon its arrival 10 years ago this Sunday, Good News For People Who Love Bad News, the album that spawned “Float On,” felt like the most radical departure of Modest Mouse’s career. But from this vantage point, with a bird’s-eye view overlooking two decades of output, it’s just one stop on a long, strange trip — or A Lifelong Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About, if you prefer. It is undoubtedly a crossover record, one laced with the most brightly accessible material Modest Mouse had recorded to date, the album that broke them to a mass audience, and a bridge to the even more shopping-at-Trader-Joe’s-for-this-backyard-BBQ territory of “Dashboard” and “We’ve Got Everything.” But it’s also as unrepentantly pessimistic, bizarre, and longwinded as any other album in their discography. Typical ambivalence and identity confusion are evident from the album’s first few seconds: “The World At Large” launches Good News with the most gorgeously graceful track in Modest Mouse’s oeuvre, Brock’s very own “Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space” — but not before a jarring horn blast introduces the album, and not without laments such as “Why does it always feel like I’m caught in an undertow?” to anchor the celestial drift in characteristic despondency. Good News For People Who Love Bad News is a perfectly perverse way to sum it up.

Good News garnered Modest Mouse the most mainstream attention of the group’s career, but it was a transitional record in more ways than that. Jeremiah Green, the drummer responsible for the junkyard grooves and wanton battery that had been a key component of Modest Mouse’s signature sound, quit the band during the recording of the album. Benjamin Weikel of the Helio Sequence took over and did his best to approximate Green, and on songs a handful of numbers such as the relatively feel-good “Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes” rewrite “The View,” he managed well enough. But on the whole, Green’s absence is palpable on Good News. The relative rhythmic normalcy can be credited with wrangling Modest Mouse’s wilder instincts more than any softening in Brock’s songwriting.

That said, Brock’s songwriting definitely softened, at least in spurts. The album is almost comically polarized between gleaming radio-ready pop tunes that represent the next logical step from The Moon And Antarctica and gnarled swampy folk tunes carried over from Brock’s side project Ugly Casanova. The opening triptych of “The World At Large,” “Float On,” and “Ocean Breathes Salty” is as representative a post-O.C. indie rock salvo as you’ll find — and one of the best arguments that the genre’s crossover yielded more than just rotten plastic fruit. From there, the album plunges into a dark stretch that affirms the band’s rambunctious side while framing it in entirely new context. The raw and ragged spleen vent “Bury Me With It” and the maniacal rave-up “Dance Hall” are as frighteningly violent as anything the band has recorded. After that, the morose banjo-laden ballad “Bukowski,” the carnival-barking Tom Waits brass skronk “This Devil’s Work Day” (the album’s obnoxious nadir, IMO), and the backwoods death march “Satin In A Coffin” could almost pass for freak-folk — hey, it was all the rage — and they render Good News far from the breezy listen it could have been. Only “The View” is there to remind us that this is supposed to be Modest Mouse’s open-armed embrace of a mass audience.

Whether working in accessible or abrasive mode, Brock’s batting average was in decline on Good News. The last quarter of the album mostly plays like B-sides shoehorned in to satisfy Brock’s penchant for rambling run times, though the ethereal campfire singalong “The Good Times Are Killing Me” continued Modest Mouse’s streak of transcendent album closers. By virtue of sheer length, Modest Mouse albums have always been inconsistent, but Good News is when that inconsistency started to become bothersome, when the band stopped seeming so invincible. Despite all the fans who discovered Modest Mouse thanks to this album, quite a few jumped off the bandwagon disgruntled too. For me, as a wide-eyed college sophomore studying abroad in Spain, the album was both a revelation and a frustration, at once a comforting linkage to home and an utterly foreign object. In email debates with buddies back home, I often vacillated between calling this album a classic and wondering if one of my favorite bands was trying — too hard? Not hard enough? These days I’m pretty sure it doesn’t deserve to be ranked among indie rock’s greatest albums, but I’d definitely call it one of the genre’s most important, and amidst its mediocre patches can be found some of the most indelible, era-defining songs in the band’s catalog. It wouldn’t be Modest Mouse if it wasn’t a self-contained litmus test, confounding and inspiring and existing in its very own corner of the universe (the dark center, of course). Good News presented indie rock’s most triumphantly thought-provoking losers as beautifully imperfect as ever, but in surprising new ways. They were still the same old confrontational asshole geniuses, but this time around they made an album that managed to challenge their old fans as much as the new ones. For that reason alone, Good News remains a record worth remembering, reliving, and maybe even — if you’re as perverse as Modest Mouse — revering.

So let’s do that. What are your favorite memories attached to Good News? Which song sticks with you like no other? Was this the album that turned you on to Modest Mouse? Or maybe it turned you off for good? Float on to the comments and sound off.

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Comments (44)
  1. I love this record, even though it is still in the bottom half of MM records for me. I agree, it is inconsistent, but when this record is on, it is ON. “Ocean Breathes Salty” might be my favorite MM song. “Bury Me With It” sounds absolutely primal, ten years later.

  2. This depresses me.

  3. When I was 13, I listened to Top 40. One summer on vacation on the Outer Banks, I was watching MTV (back when they still played videos, even though that complaint was kicking around even then) and “Float On” changed my world. When I got home, I immediately ran out to the store…

    and bought a 99-cent copy of “This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About,” because I couldn’t afford “Good News.” Though I wasn’t expecting the abrasiveness of the record and it took me a year or two to fully appreciate the record, it ended up kicking off a love for MM and, along with the self-titled Franz Ferdinand, helped me leap into the world of alternative.

    Once I got a record player, I finally bought “Good News” and that front-to-back listen was just as good as the first time I ever listened to it.

    • Summer of ’04 I was sharing renting a room in a house that had cable TV. Float On and Take Me out were on constantly on MTV2. They both had music videos with this very enjoyable paper cutout-looking animation style. Anyway summer of 2004 is highlighted for me by those two songs, which were such a welcome change on the alt-rock radio I was still hanging onto.

      • I relate 100% on this. While I was somewhat familiar with Modest Mouse before the “Float On” vid release (thanks, kewler middle school friends), the stylistic similarities and utter ubiquity of the “Float On” and “Take Me Out” videos led me to confuse the two bands, which is hilarious in retrospect. But summer ’04 memories are stitched with these two tracks.

  4. I don’t think it was until “We Were Dead…” that the poppy elements started bothering me. What did bother me about this album is the beginning of their skronk-folk sound, with banjos, “King Rat” and all of that. The trio of “Dance Hall,” “Bukowski” and “This Devil’s Workday” (confound those infernal horns!) all dip into this sound.

    MM’s early folky moments were cooler to me because they weren’t as cleanly produced and they used additional instruments sparingly and wisely (those amazing strings on “Lounge” and “Talking Shit About a Pretty Sunset” for two “Long Drive..” examples). These days it sort of seems like Brock and Co. take a “fuck it, throw in a hurdy gurdy” approach to composition.

    It might just be a personal bias, but that’s the main thing that’s irked me about my favorite band over the last ten years of their career. I still have faith that the ~2014 album will hold some cool surprises though.

  5. Definitely not the best album, but I think it created more MM fans than it alienated. I was a casual MM listener before Good News, but this album prompted me to buy their back-catalog, of which I love Moon the most. I can put their whole discography on shuffle now, and while Good News songs aren’t my favorites, they mix in without offending too much…

  6. I vividly remember buying this album – I was at Heathrow Airport about to go on holiday and on impulse I went to the HMV there just before it closed for the day – I spotted it and having seen a rave review the other day I decided to buy it. One of my best record buying impulse decisions.

    I agree the first half is probably stronger but I still think it’s a great record overall. Seven years since the last album now, argh!

  7. I feel like this was kind of the last big record (along with Franz Ferdinand) of the Indie Rock Boom of the Strokes, Stripes, Yeahs, etc.

    In the year that followed, ladies like Joanna Newsom, M.I.A., and Miranda Lambert stepped onto the stage, and guys in guitar bands didn’t have much impact for the rest of the decade.

    • I realize this a commonly held opinion but I’d just like to counter by noting:

      Alligator (2005), Apologies to the Queen Mary (2005), Separation Sunday (2005), Z (2005), Boys and Girls in America (2006), Blood Mountain (2006), The Body, the Blood, the Machine (2006), Everything All the Time (2006), It’s Never Been Like That (2006), Mirrored (2007), Return to Cookie Mountain (2006), Boxer (2007), Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007), Let’s Say Friends (2007) Dear Science (2008), Microcastle (2008), Nouns (2008), Vampire Weekend (2008), Bitte Orca (2009), Veckatimest (2009)

      That’s as damn fine half-decade of dudely guitar rock

      • Oh don’t get me wrong, I love many of those albums, but none of them had any impact on the culture at large in terms of creating a scene where good music feeds off of other good music and people are drawn in. It’s just a fact of gravity or cycles – good music gets popular for a few years and then most people want a decade or so of pop and dance and rap. The only band to really make an impact with guitar rock during that time (and really up to now) was Arctic Monkeys, but primarily in the UK, and even there, the impact was kind of diminished b/c there weren’t enough bands to follow in their wake.

  8. I absolutely love the song “Black Cadillacs” on Good News. This is a quality album, and the popularity of “Float On” opened up Modest Mouse to newer fan base too, which was great for the band

  9. Probably 4th over all for me (Moon, Lonesome, Building), and that’s primarily for Bury Me With It. Such a wonderful song. Also, The Good Times Are Killing Me is excellent too. I guess as long time MM fans go, I can see some having a problem with this more polished approach. It doesn’t bother me that much, but I must admit I listen to their earlier work far more.

  10. This record along with The Mars Volta De-loused in the Comatorium began and defined all my first friendships with my group of friends. Can’t believe it’s been 10 years.

  11. A friend of mine told me about and had me listen to Lonesome Crowded West literally the day after I heard “Float On” for the first time. I was a sophomore in high school and had never heard of Modest Mouse before. I liked “Float On” and was intrigued by the band, but was honestly scared when I first listened to “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine.” 10 years later, I have every Modest Mouse song ever released and I like both sides of Modest Mouse, poppy/slow and abstract/abrasive. Good News is a very good album.
    It’s way past time that their next full-length comes out, and I’m still excited for it.

    Last note: “Float On” sounds much better in context on Good News than it does just as a song on shuffle.

  12. I was one of those fans that was alienated by the album. Lonesome Crowded West was on constant rotation when this came out and I was so thrown for a loop. I remember friends buying this record and expecting to hear songs similar to “Float On” and hating what the rest of the album was. I was in my 15 year-old pretentious phase where I was mad that they’d sold out with “Float On” and my underground band had changed. I stopped listening to Modest Mouse for quite a few years.

    Then sometime around when We Were Dead came out I gave this record another shot. I know people consider Good News to be inconsistent, but somehow I fell in love with that. I rank this as number one on my list of their albums. I think it was rediscovering Brock’s morbid lyrics that made me change my mind. “Bukowski” is definitely my favorite, just love “God who’d want to be such an asshole?” I’m more of a lyrics person, so production polish doesn’t bother me as long as lyrical quality isn’t lost.

  13. I enjoyed reading this. My parents were super religious and wanted to vet every piece of music I brought into the house. Which was extreme and I rebelled as much as could. I forced my CDs to play Anne Frank in the most random parts of my bedroom. I have to believe that I liked the song Float On from Yahoo radio or something and so I bought this album. But upon reading some of the other lyrics, I knew it was way too dangerous to have in the house. I brought the CD with me and gave to a random girl in my painting class. Really boring story. That says so much about my past lol.

    As for songs that stick out? The View. Great, great song. “If it takes shit to make bliss then I feel pretty blissfully.” That and the Killers’ “I’ve got soul but I’m not a soldier” where my anthems in high school.

  14. This was the first album I bought after getting my driver’s license in high school, so it will forever be linked to long car rides to school in my green Chevy S10 with my sister complaining about how weird it all was. I was driving down A1A when I first heard the transition from Ocean Breathes Salty to Float On… life was unbelievable. Maybe it’s the nostalgia, but this album still gets me every time.

    And yes, Bury Me With It. Good. Stuff.

  15. I remember my buddy’s older brother bringing a blank CD over with Float On burned onto it when my friends and I were in college, and all of us being big Modest Mouse fans we were stoked. We loved it! It was catchy but still had that weird Modest Mouse guitar harmonic thing running all through it. We put it on repeat driving around town, all giddy. It kind of surprised me that it became a radio hit, to be honest. Ocean Breathes Salty was also a great tune, and I love the Mark Kozelek cover version.

  16. For me, Good News first provokes the memory of standing in line at a Modest Mouse concert in Fargo during the summer of 2005 and seeing a big truck pull up blasting “Float On.” Instantly, a number of people started to crowd it and bob their heads. My friends and I (of course) immediately rolled our eyes and dismissed all these “ignorant” new fans. The concert experience followed suit: we seemed to be the only ones paying attention to songs like “Dramamine,” “Tiny Cities Made of Ashes,” and “Cowboy Dan.” I remember being pissed off and feeling superior. I’m sure many of us did.

    I guess I’m part of the minority that actually preferred the back half of the album to the hits. Tracks like “The View,” “One Chance,” and especially “Blame It On the Tetons” spoke to me in my late teens and still do. Maybe part of their appeal was reactionary. I reached a point where I couldn’t listen to “Float On.” “Ocean Breathes Salty,” while still awesome, seemed like it was also starting to become another indie staple. I missed the gritty insight of their earlier stuff (for the record, Lonesome Crowded West and Long Drive are my favourite MM albums) and I found Brock’s lyrics were getting less interesting (however, I have to give the man credit for introducing me to Bukowski). I also missed not having to share Modest Mouse with people whose tastes seemingly clashed with my.

    To me, Good News isn’t the beginning of MM’s decline (though I’ve never like anything on We Were Dead…) so much as an integral part of a changing landscape. Ultimately, I think the album does an admirable job of achieving a digestible balance that characterizes a lot of cross-over “indie” releases from early 00s. But I can’t pretend I wasn’t part of it that landscape. Good News marks the point where my own arrogance about indie music peaked, where checking P4K became a part of my daily routine and my computer’s hard drive really started to fill up.

  17. This album works for me because of how different it was from the preceding albums. I never saw “Float On” as a sellout pop song, but instead felt joy and relief that one of the most wonderfully pessimistic, and misanthropic assholes had found a little bit of optimism. I don’t know if it is the slicker production or the introduction of brass instruments, but the whole album, despite some inevitably dark lyrics feels more positive, and dare I say happy, in spots.
    I was relieved that Isaac Brock, after all the dark drunks, false messiahs, and trailer trash jerks that populated the previous albums, could write a song whose message was basically “everything is going to be okay.” To me, it was very cathartic.
    Llonesome Crowded West will always be my favorite, but this album is where Brock made peace with his inner asshole and I feel better for it.

  18. Modest Mouse were a huge band for me my senior year of high school (circa The Moon & Antarctica), so Good News was one of my most eagerly-anticipated albums of all time. I still remember downloading the leak in my college dorm and discussing with friends. I was not disappointed, though I quickly recognized it as not as big or mind-blowing as M&A was. I think it’s remained really fresh over the years, and is probably the album I play the most, even though it’s far from my favorite.

    For a bit of history, here’s a weird early version of “Float On” that lacks the chorus: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5rXrbtId5U

  19. Good News will always have a place in my heart, since it was my introduction to Modest Mouse. I later bought We Were Dead and wasn’t crazy about it, but after a few years I went through their whole back catalog and became a huge fan. Lonesome Crowded West is my favorite.
    I recently went back and listened to Good News for the first time in years, and I still love a bunch of the songs (“The World at Large,” “Ocean Breathes Salty,” “Bukowski”) and found some new favorites I didn’t quite understand the first time through (“Dance Hall,” “Black Cadillacs”). So at least half the album holds up, and honestly, it’s just as lyrically potent as most of their other stuff.
    Side note, We Were Dead has a rep as the band’s smoothest, poppiest stuff because of “Dashboard” and “Missed the Boat,” etc., but there really is some great, absolutely ripping material on that album.

  20. Following the one-two bunch of masterpieces “The Lonesome Crowded West” (my all-time favourite concept album FWIW) and “The Moon and Antarctica”, “Good News” is admittedly a little bit of a let-down, if only for the lack of consistency that the previous theme-driven albums nailed. But I still love the shit out of this album, and “We Were Dead” too (“Spitting Venom” is a seriously underrated, masterful track), and if Modest Mouse have softened, I doubt they’ll lose their identity altogether as Isaac Brock is a magnificently charismatic frontman. One of my favourite bands since childhood and probably always will be.

  21. This record came out when I was younger, and I never really gave it a chance (as most preteens did, I just listened to the hits: “Float On”, and “The World at Large”). However, throughout my teenage years I listened to more and more of the Modest Mouse discography, but I never returned to this album. Two months ago, I bought ‘Good News’ on vinyl and quite honestly, my life was changed. I was going through some dark stuff at the beginning of the year, and for whatever reason I connected to the back half of the record; the stuff like “One Chance” and “Blame it On the Tetons”. I really don’t know what it was. Maybe the lyrics describing meltdown-like situations? It clicked, and I can honestly say this record changed my life. Thanks, Modest Mouse.

  22. This album introduced me to Modest Mouse and to be honest I don’t think I would have gotten into the rest of their catalog without it. While The Lonesome Crowded West had probably supplanted this one as my favorite MM album this one still holds a special place as an album that used a couple of great more pop friendly songs and a lot of weirder stuff to introduce me to the rest of their music.

  23. This album came out my first year of college and was the first that I ever pirated before it was officially released (what pure, simple days). I’d gotten into MM right around the time The Moon and Antarctica was released and had been waiting for what seemed like a lifetime for my favorite band to release another album (one time I listened to all 7 MM albums plus Ugly Casanova back to back in chronological order on a road trip), so when it finally came out, I had it blaring on repeat in my dorm room despite my roommate being HORRENDOUSLY ill and bedridden. It did makes the lyrics “are you dead or are you sleeping” a whole lot more fun.

    A couple years later I met my current girlfriend who was also a huge MM fan but had refused to ever listen to this one because it was obviously shit (she was an idiot, as she’ll now admit) and I had to trick her into listening to it and liking it by telling her it was a CD of unreleased material. She loved it.

    Also seeing Target-sponsored commercials for the album freaked me the fuck out.

  24. you called “this is a long drive for someone with nothing to think about” a wrong name, unless you were somehow making a Parting of the Sensory joke or something

  25. Just above “We Were Dead…” at the bottom of my Modest Mouse records rankings to be honest. I was never into this album. Not even close to “This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About”, “The Lonesome Crowded West” or “The Moon & Antarctica”.

  26. “Lonesome Crowded West” is my actual all-time favorite album, but “Good News” is the album I’ve repeatedly bought the most. I would loan it out, and it would mysteriously disappear. Also, points for being the last listenable MM album.

  27. I think I may be the only person in the world that can’t stand this band. I could just never do MM. They drive me batty. Even “Float On.”

    • What the hell, I can see why I got downvotes, because I posted something inflammatory. But you were just stating your opinion about a band. How does that warrant such a low comment rating?

  28. Proto-corporate-Indie-rock Godfathers. You can thank this album for Imagine Dragons.

  29. relatively feel-good “Tiny Cities Made Of Ashes” rewrite “The View”
    raw and ragged spleen vent “Bury Me With It”
    maniacal rave-up “Dance Hall”
    morose banjo-laden ballad “Bukowski”
    carnival-barking Tom Waits brass skronk “This Devil’s Work Day”
    backwoods death march “Satin In A Coffin”
    ethereal campfire singalong “The Good Times Are Killing” me [sic]

    … kinda beat the formula to death there, didn’t ya?

  30. Album changed my life. Was released my freshman year of college. Isaac’s lyrics always felt like he was as confused and lost as I was. The unique guitar tones seemed to be the sonic equivalent of twenty something angst. This album pushed me. Pushed me to try new things. To live life more fully. TO believe this life is all we have and that I better get to living. This is a quarterlifecrisis essential album. Helped me to become who I am. Helped me to change.

  31. The View is “relatively feel-good”??

    “If life’s not beautiful without the pain/ I’d rather never ever see beauty again” is one of the most depressing sentences I’ve ever heard in my life.

  32. In a vacuum, a song like “Float On” would be great in the indie community and everyone would love it forever, but because of it’s popularity and it being overplayed, it’s been skewed in people’s minds. Love the back half of the record “Dancehall” always gets me movin’ and groovin”. I wouldn’t even put this album in their top 3 but it’s still a great one.

  33. “who once bragged to Pitchfork in some now-deleted interview about driving around looking for stray dogs to run over”

    I think I just threw up a little.

  34. dg15  |   Posted on Apr 7th 0

    Speaking of this album, Newbury Comics is selling a exclusive Green Vinyl on their website for this record. Pretty awesome looking. http://www.newburycomics.com/rel/v2_home.php?storenr=103&deptnr=660

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