The world has changed a lot since 1997, and so has Modest Mouse. In the 18 years since the release of critical favorite The Lonesome Crowded West, the band has had a platinum-selling record, added a legendary guitarist, lost a legendary guitarist and gone on hiatus.
They certainly have been busy. Isaac Brock and company have proved resilient enough to transition from underground to mainstream while maintaining critical favor—not to mention surviving multiple generations of rock. Their new release Strangers to Ourselves demonstrates what the band has learned after nearly two decades of writing and performing.
In the eight years since the release of their last record—crossover success We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank—the music hasn’t changed much. Listeners won’t be blown away by the sonic novelty of Strangers to Ourselves like they were by the band’s first couple of records. Brock’s yelping vocals are no longer as exhilarating as they once were. Instead, this new release is forgettable, destined to be lost within the band’s extensive discography.
Lead single “Lampshades on Fire” is largely representative of the release. It is by no means a bad song and it is undoubtedly a Modest Mouse song. The driving rhythms, Brock’s chanting and melodic vocals, the harmonic guitar and all the other definitive tags of a Modest Mouse hit are present. But even here on one of the album’s strongest songs, the lyrics are lacking and it feels as if something is missing.
Despite its strengths, this album is not the track-by-track success of preceding records. “Be Brave” and “Sugar Boats” are two songs where the lyrical inadequacy is especially apparent. The almost gypsy-punk quality of “Sugar Boats” sounds out of place and more than a little forced on Strangers to Ourselves. The repetition of “from day to day” and “be brave” on “Be Brave” sounds similarly subpar.
The biggest problem with Strangers to Ourselves is that Modest Mouse has failed at self-recreation again. It lacks the sincerity of 1997’s “Trailer Trash” and the creative energy that comes through so clearly on 2007’s “Missed the Boat.”
Brock has confirmed that two albums worth of material has been recorded in the eight years since the last record. Hopefully, the creative wall that blocks Strangers to Ourselves from greatness will be dismantled by the forthcoming companion album, which is set to drop in 2016.