Modest Mouse
The Lonesome Crowded West


5.0
classic

Review

by Objectively correct opinion haver USER (13 Reviews)
September 16th, 2021 | 25 replies


Release Date: 1997 | Tracklist

Review Summary: But Pitchfork gave it an 8.9

I'm in a bit of a pickle here. You see, this entire review amounts to so much fluff surrounding a single sentence. A thesis if you want to be remembered, college boy. Now I don't want to bury the lede―hold it hostage, really, but I also would like to make it through at least one paragraph before I render myself superfluous. So...umm...yeah.

"The Lonesome Crowded West is the greatest Western album". There. I said it. That's it. Go home.

But...for a scene raised on a steady diet of the Pitchfork Brand™ hipster non sequiturs masquerading as faux profundity, that imitation nirvana―a statement as direct as "the best X album" may well ring hollow to your purple prose poisoned ears. I sympathize, but I can't underestimate the sincerity of that statement. It may need a little clarification and qualification here and there to pass the fact checking, but that's not hyperbole I really do mean it. If nothing else, hopefully you can trust that I was willing to write this wall of text just to backstop those nine little words.

But just because you trust the earnesty of that statement (or so I assume if you're still reading), certainly doesn't mean you agree with it. At least, not unless you're one of the ones that came to see your favourite album get another tongue bath. Let's talk about what the greatest Western album really means.

Every group, category, genre distinguished qualitatively is done so because it has a little soul, a certain je ne sais quoi that runs throughout every member of the group. This is by its very nature impossible to define discretely. Odd numbers are objectively defined using a quantitative criterion that distinguishes them indelibly from even numbers, or imaginary numbers. "Country" and "Western" are nebulous terms with only the loosest confederacy of fans to "define" them. Even in scare quotes, "define" still feels like too strong a word. Not to belabour the point, but we don't even really do any defining, we just fall all the way back on the associative property of Aristotlean logic: Wu-Tang is hip hop. Redman sounds like Wu-Tang. Therefore, Redman sounds like hip hop (and is hip hop).

This is important because while The Lonesome Crowded West is the greatest Western album, it's certainly not the greatest Country & Western album, nor Country album, nor Bluegrass album, nor even Western album! That's because when I say "Western", I don't mean Waylon Jennings and David Allen Coe. No one would ever liken Modest Mouse to Willie Nelson. What I mean by "Western" is the area itself. You see, The Lonesome Crowded West is the quintessential album of America's West.

There is a region of America stretching from the north of New Mexico on one corner through to Washington on the other and even up into Canada, broad and square as the states that comprise it. This is the "West". Like any other region, there is a certain culture to the West, one defined by a certain je ne sais quoi of its own. The Lonesome Crowded West is good because it's Modest Mouse's magnum opus, but it's truly great because it is the West. The modern West, at least. No longer the west exclusively of cowboys, now also shopping malls, living in anything but harmony.

I'd argue this conflict forms the central theme of the album, and one neatly encapsulated by the opening track, "Teeth Like God's Shoeshine". This track bounces back and forth between an erratic but very twangy, kitschy tune deliberately evocative of the postcard American Southwest to a mellow refrain about the titular man with teeth like god's shoeshine. "He sparkles, shimmers, shines. Let's all have another Orange Julius, thick syrup, standing in lines. The malls are the soon to be ghost towns well so long, farewell, goodbye." Despite hearing this track literally hundreds of times, I still can't tease the meaning out of this riddle, but the central conflict is (eventually) obvious.

This conflict―central to the Western experience―is the subject of numerous other tracks: "Convenient Parking"'s screed against consumerism, "Lounge (Closing Time)"'s look at the nouveau generation of latte hedonists, and...really when I think about it, I could probably name the whole setlist. The only tracks I'd have to omit are the ones I don't yet understand. If you want to hear the album in a single track, no track is more overt than "Cowboy Dan", a forlorn cowboy disenfranchised by the dismal tide of development and gentrification. "Didn't move to the city, the city moved to me! and I want. out. desperately." should strike a nerve with the Westerners listening. If you listen to the track on its own, I highly recommend the single version with "Too Many Fiestas for Rueben". Like any good album, the tracks are mere parts of a larger whole. A single is just that, and stands on its own.

It was fun to take a few easy jabs at corporate intrusion on formerly virgin land in the last paragraph, but really, as a non-cowboy I ascribe no strong judgement to this turn of affairs, and neither I think does Brock. There's the obvious low hanging fruit of styrofoam packed, neatly stackable BRAND NAME™ happiness for sale and the accompanying cloying nihilism that would eventually dominate The Moon and Antarctica, but that's part and parcel both for Modest Mouse, and frankly for the West itself. Really, it's simply an exploration of the Western experience by way of an oral history in fifteen voices that all just happen to sound like Isaac Brock.

In a previous draft I'd called this the Rosetta Stone of the West, but that's not really accurate. The Rosetta Stone was really just a tool for understanding, but The Lonesome Crowded West is an album for those that understand already. Anyone can enjoy it, yes, but it'll only speak to the people that already "get it". Is that ironic? The perfect encapsulation of an entire culture, and the damn thing is in their dead native language. Now I want to close by thanking Modest Mouse for the greatest Western album. My time in the West may be long gone, but I needn't fear the bitter pangs of nostalgia. The West is only a flac away.



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user ratings (2339)
4.4
superb
other reviews of this album
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Comments:Add a Comment 
Lacedaemonius
September 16th 2021


97 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Trying not to be bitter no one will ever read this just because Trebor went to college.

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2021


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7

amazing review

Ryus
September 16th 2021


37004 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

pos

best band

Lacedaemonius
September 16th 2021


97 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

YoYo must be the fastest reader on earth

YoYoMancuso
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2021


18878 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7

logged on and it was at the top of the recent reviews ¯_(ツ)_/¯

JohnnyoftheWell
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2021


60588 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7

ok ok but what the shit is an album

MiloRuggles
Staff Reviewer
September 16th 2021


3034 Comments


siri define album pls
pospospos

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
September 16th 2021


9854 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

"Anyone can enjoy it, yes, but it'll only speak to the people that already "get it"."



Yeah I don't really know what that means





Ryus
September 16th 2021


37004 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

i can't get this album i'm not from the american west :/

fogza
Contributing Reviewer
September 16th 2021


9854 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

i only understand this album when i have my vpn on

tectactoe
September 16th 2021


7402 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Nice review for a 🐐 album. Pos 👍🏻

Trebor.
Emeritus
September 16th 2021


59872 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

sick

Lacedaemonius
September 16th 2021


97 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

if your family doesn't own a decorative bull skull I don't even know what to say to you

Pikazilla
September 16th 2021


29825 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Pos awesome band

Snake.
September 16th 2021


25270 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

WELLLLL

Squiggly
September 17th 2021


1268 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

COWBOY DAN’S A MAJOR PLAYER IN THE COWBOY SCENE

eureka
September 17th 2021


56 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

pos'd



this album feels pretty relatable growing up in the South, too. just replace the desert with swamps

eureka
September 17th 2021


56 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

HE GOES TO THE RESERVATION DRINKS AND GETS MEAN

Lacedaemonius
September 17th 2021


97 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

HE'S GONNA START A WARR

HE'S GONNA START A WOAHOAR AND HE

Lacedaemonius
September 17th 2021


97 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

if by "south" you mean southwest, I can see that but if you mean south-south, I'm incredulous but very intrigued.



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