Can we all stop caring about the old Modest Mouse now? The days of the arrests, meltdowns, random member shifts, talking to God... those days are over. Modest Mouse, in its current—and arguably, most stable—incarnation is not the same band. Other than the still-cute moniker, this is a different creature than the bratty little indie band that crawled from the woods of Issaquah, Washington 14 years ago.
But before we close the door on Modest Mouse's past, we should revisit the point where we left the band: It was just a few years back, when Isaac Brock & Co. somehow managed to become wildly successful with Good News for People Who Love Bad News. Previous to that, it was nothing but more infighting, alleged drug use, plus the uncertainty of having their first major label release, The Moon and Antarctica, end up a disappointment. But after the feel-good hit of this decade, "Float On," broke, everything seemed... well, normal. The band chilled the fuck out, went platinum, and were given our generation's finest award for an artist to receive: They were covered by Kidz Bop. All was well for Camp Modest Mouse, so now we can turn off the light for that era. No more stories about drummer Jeremiah Green, no more gossip about Brock, it's time we all say "goodnight" to the old Modest Mouse.
So now we can say "hello" to the new Modest Mouse. Armed with a new record, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank, and a new guitarist, Johnny Marr. Yeah, the guy from the Smiths. No, seriously, the Smiths. Initially, it seems an odd fit, but after you're finished driving around Southeast Portland blaring Strangeways, Here We Come and looking for him, you'll arrive at the realization that Marr's contributions to Modest Mouse might just be the greatest thing to happen to this band.
In theory, We Were Dead is a concept album, but its nautical themes come and go as they please. The songs follow a vague maritime theme wherein hope and despair are evenly dispersed and there is an equal amount of swimming and sinking, all done under the umbrella of Brock's confident vocal yelps and Marr's signature guitar jangle. The single, "Dashboard," is another "Float On," a song that skates by with ease and a breezy confidence. "We've Got Everything" and "Parting of the Sensory" duel it out for which is the album's finest track (the latter wins out with its grim repetitive mantra of "Someday you will die and somehow something or someone steals your carbon").
While Modest Mouse didn't need Marr—nor did Marr need the Mouse—the combination of the two, complete with the reinvigorated songwriting of Brock, makes We Were Dead the culmination of the band's career. This is the sum of every single part of their long existence, from being the "next Built to Spill," to signing to a major label, going nuts, getting successful, and somehow becoming the lone band on the planet that can negotiate a truce between stubborn indie kids and rowdy fratsters who see Brock as a modern-day John Belushi. It's clear when you reminisce on the band's catalog they were building toward something—it was just never clear what that was. Well, it is now. With We Were Dead, Modest Mouse has been born anew—so let's stop talking about the past, and focus on their future.