Review Summary: Brock & co. continue their expedition into the valleys of pop, resulting in their most uneven major release to date.
And so it goes:
There is a band. The band releases an album that makes them famous. A bit too famous, maybe. Why is that? While they definitely are a rock band, they blend easy-for-ears sound with some genuinely butt-kicking elements. A ton of new fans begins biting nails waiting for the follow-up. And it lands, finally. Crowds put their hands on it, begin listening... And something is not right. What happened? Where are the easy hooks? Where is the clean production? Where is my new favorite band? The time passes, and those who decide to give their new purchase a chance begin to notice that the new effort is still from the guys they fell in love with, and is just as good, only different. And thus the new hardcore fanbase is born.
Many bands took this route, more or less. Examples? Here you go: Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Weezer, Modest Mouse...
Oh, did I say Modest Mouse? My bad.
The opener, 'March Into The Sea,' may be somewhat misleading: it sounds like a sea shanty, with its nautical theme and Isaac Brock's unmistakable voice going wild as usual (those darn “a-ha-ha” shoutalongs...). 'Dashboard' follows, set to be Mouse's omnipresent single no.2, is definitely not as immediate as 'Float On' was, but stands out as a great song in its own right, owing much to fantastic production values, and also to varied instrumentation, which is about to turn out yet again to be once again working for the band's profit.
So, if these songs are so good, what's wrong?
Well, from now on we can see a shocking, almost 50-50 hit-miss pattern. 'Fire It Up' and 'Florida' are probably the weakest songs present, with the former offering a neat intro and little more, and the latter trying to be poppy and fast-paced at once, summing up to create an uninteresting mess. Other songs never reaching over the “average” bar are 'Education,' 'Steam Engenius' and 'Invisible,' and all of them suffer from more or less the same problem as 'Florida'.
And now a digression. When exactly have we had an album by Modest Mouse with a total of five songs that can be considered as simply weak? Oh, boy, it can't be good. Something terrible must have happened. The tempo is up, the lyrics strange, the production cleaner than ever... But something is lost. It's not that musicianship's become stale, but there simply is no real spark in any of these songs. And that's saying much, as the band was never really that much into speed factor... Maybe for a reason.
But one can by no means consider the album as an utter failure basing solely on the above paragraphs. Luckily, we have the other half of the songs, and hey, most of them are pretty damn good, and some are just great. 'Missed the Boat' may be a teeny bit too radio-friendly, and at first it may be hard to believe that it's actually this very band, but it defends itself as a song. 'We've Got Everything' is just as upbeat as the forgettables, yet oh-so-catchy; 'Parting of the Sensory' presents Mouse's largely deserted bizarreness, and so does ' Fly Trapped in a Jar;' 'People as Places as People' has a really pleasant feel to it, and 'Little Motel' demands a separate sentence. Being the most laid-back piece here, it has a great soothing value, and the instrumental crescendo in the bridge will make you feel, to quote a classic lyricist, pretty blissfully. Another marvel, 'Spitting Venom,' goes well over eight minutes and those are eight minutes well spent. The totally unexpected entry of horns somewhere in the middle of the seemingly conventional song stands as one of the top moments on the album.
Conclusion time. We Were Dead...
is an extremely uneven record. It still comes out on top every now and then thanks to some songs, but there are way too many pieces that just plainly fall flat. Many fans have a high dislike for this album, mainly because the band apparently did take an easy way out from the cluster described in the introduction; and as a whole it seems to lack the magic of the previous efforts. I hereby nod to these accusations, but hesitantly; it still manages to deliver more often than not, not all craze is gone, longer and more experimental songs are back, and they intersperse well with the more commercial ones. All in all, it is a very pleasant album. But when it fails, it sure does hurt. Badly.
And so it goes.