No One's First And You're Next
By Calum Marsh | 29 July 2009
Seriously, how the fuck did the Modest Mouse responsible for Lonesome Crowded West (1997) and Moon & Antarctica (2000), a band that sounded so vital and exciting, come to this? Not that it hasn’t been a drawn-out process, their devolution; with each new release since Antarctica, even their most dedicated of fans have been left wondering what exactly happened with Isaac Brock, increasingly doubtful of his band’s ability to record another Great album. After three tepid outings—released, inexplicably, to larger-than-ever audiences—it’s starting to look grim.
That’s a pessimistic view, sure, but releases like this don’t offer much reason to think otherwise. No One’s First And You’re Next is being billed as a sort of flippant collection of b-sides and leftover material from the We Were Dead Before The Ship Even Sank (2007) and Good News For People Who Love Bad News (2004) sessions. Question: given that neither of those albums are particularly good, what are the realistic odds that the leftovers will be any better, or even on par? Decent “extras and oddities” collections certainly do exist (for instance, the recent Royal City compilation wound up being about as good as any of their proper LPs), but infrequently, and the positive cases the material is typically culled from really good albums, which We Were Dead and Good News are not. And so No One’s First amounts to little more than light versions of those two releases, which is about as good as it sounds.
Each of these eight leftovers can be divided into rote, by-the-numbers Modest Mouse rock jams and meandering pseudo-experiments that feel, uncharacteristically and disappointingly, like nothing more than filler. The songs from the former camp are uninspired but inoffensive, and the strongest of these, “Satellite Skin” and “Autumn Beds,” work because they accurately replicate past glories. “Satellite” in particular shows the latest iteration of Modest Mouse as having settled into a rut of uninteresting competency, satisfied merely going through the motions. One gets a sense of Issac Brock as now tired and weary, enthusiasm waning, assembling the band for…what, exactly? Reiteration? Contractual obligation?
No One’s deliberately “difficult” tracks, most notably the instrumental prog-rock blunder “The Whale Song,” plod and fizzle. They feign boldness, act as though they’re onto something interesting, and consistently, frustratingly, go nowhere. It’s clear why “Whale Song” and others failed to find a home on the last two records; what’s less clear is why they’re being packaged and sold here and now. What we’re left with is a slight release of minuscule consequence, and for its negligibility alone it’s not worth hating. We’ll save the rancor for the full-length.