Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Lovable Wreck

Isaac Brock and crew sail back into rough seas on their fifth album.


We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank

Wrapping a wordy, darkly whimsical title around a bunch of songs many will find catchy and none will find pretty, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank takes after Modest Mouse's other four albums, even with guitarist Johnny Marr added to the equation. Like everything the band has released since signing with Epic in the teeth of a millennial panic, it's louder and somewhat less twisty than the group's indie output. But where song lengths diminished to four minutes on 2000's The Moon and Antarctica and three on their 2004 breakthrough, Good News for People Who Love Bad News, here they're up to four and a half. Cut to a shot of Isaac Brock just not giving a fuck.

Epic hopes there's another "Float On" here to goose sales. This is unlikely, not just because novelties always are but because "Float On" found Brock in an atypically live-and-let-live mood. Usually he's more fuck-me, let's-get-lost or oh-shit-not-again. Insofar as his latest lyrics make sense at all, they yoke images of failure and frustration to the loud and the catchy -- thus rendering failure and frustration more fun, although after five albums this victory is getting too theoretical. One "Float On" candidate is the instantly hooky "We've Got Everything," with its "we know, we know" backup and, well, its "left you dying on the floor" finale; another is "Steam Engenius," which tosses in some woo-hoos on its way to "stasis is what you got." That's what Brock can tell his label, anyway. Fact is, he's a dour guy with a lot of talent and a good hustle who's been mining the same vein of meaning for more than a decade. That's a long time -- maybe too long.

Rolling Stone, Mar. 22, 2007