'We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank'
Title: “We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank”
Artist: Modest Mouse
Release date: 2007
Favorite track: “Fly Trapped in a Jar”
I’m always primed for an excuse to listen to Modest Mouse.
The rock band is one of my favorites because its music is so abrasively good. It’s this clash between in-your-face garage band and dreamlike indie-rock exploration. That’s how the band comes across live, too.
It’s the type of music that kicks you when you’re down then extends a hand to pick you back up. The band’s lyrics are ingenious.
“We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank” isn’t my favorite Mouse album, but I still dig it. It features a few of my favorite tracks.
I’m not immune to commercial appeal.
This album’s four singles — “Dashboard,” “Missed the Boat,” “Little Motel” and “People as Places as People” — appeal to my pop-music-loving side on a primal level. Don’t hate me for calling it pop rock. It is what it is.
It still surprises me “We’ve Got Everything” wasn’t released as a single, because it’s beyond radio ready.
This is Modest Mouse’s fifth studio album. This means it comes in the wake of four stellar albums and eight years before the band’s latest record, “Strangers to Ourselves.”
For a record with a morbid nautical theme, the majority of its songs are upbeat — perfect to pep you up for a workout. The lyrics reveal its dark side.
Nearly every song paints the picture of a beat-up car or a pathetic boat. In “We’ve Got Everything,” it’s a “sad ass little canoe.” In “Fire It Up,” it’s “broke down transportation,” and in “Dashboard,” the dashboard is melted and the windshield is broken.
There is really no consensus regarding whether this concept album is a giant political statement. Is the sinking ship America? Life? Probably both.
There is, however, what I perceive as an ironic glimmer of hope in “Fire It Up,” another obscenely catchy track. While the lyrics point to futility, the song suggests there is beauty in the pointlessness of life.
It honestly was beautifully bold
Like trying to save an ice cube from the cold
Even if we had been sure enough, it’s true, we really didn’t know
Even if we knew which way to head, but, still, we probably wouldn’t go
— “Fire It Up”
I’m drawn to the softness of “Little Motel.” In contrast to the other songs, its sound is not confrontational; although, I can’t say the same for the lyrics.
I’m indifferent to the song “Florida,” but, hey, it’s the name of our state.
My favorite song, “Fly Trapped in a Jar,” was a late discovery. I lifted my tonearm to replay this song approximately 1,000 times, and I’d do it again.
The song is the musical manifestation of its title, frustrated and hopeless. I have no idea whether the fly’s “wing” referenced in song is a metaphor for a political wing or if the song is simply about being drunk and unwanted. Either way, it’s safe to say what happens to insects when trapped in jars.
I have a positive approach to the song “People as Places as People.” I believe it’s a reminder to be in the present moment, acknowledging what you seek in life is often what you already possess. Meditation moments by Savannah.
Always something we look for
From the day we were born
Instead, we’re the people that we wanted to know
And we’re the places that we wanted to go
— “People as Places as People”
The album art is as contradictory as the music.
It features a hot air balloon tied to an anchor, perfectly depicting the aforementioned futility theme. Even more ironically, it’s a charming illustration with playful colors.
Modest Mouse is definitely consistent with its dark humor, always laughing in the face of sadness.
Hey, I'm Savannah. I collect records, and they collect dust. Like my preferred media form, I strive to not become obsolete. I created Off the Record as a way to turn my mind inside out, into something visual and tangible. One is the loneliest number, so I asked my friends to join.