By 2004, Modest Mouse had established themselves as a reputable force to be reckoned with across the American musical underground. Modest Mouse had already released two iconic indie staples, Lonesome Crowded West and The Moon & Antarctica. Both records made only a minimal impact in the mainstream, alongside the even earlier, cultier classic, This Is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, but nevertheless, Modest Mouse's talent and knack for songwriting was well uncovered by those in indie circles.
Good News For People Who Love Bad News saw its release three years after Sad Sappy Sucker, a collection of pre-debut album recorded tracks that were shelved for years, until the band had earned some clout. Reception for Sad Sappy Sucker was mixed to negative upon release and split MM fans, eventually becoming somewhat forgettable. The Pavement-sounding tracks were not bad by any means but placed Modest Mouse in that sea of bands trying to sound like Pavement, whereas most listeners would rather just listen to Pavement. That's not a knock at Modest Mouse, though; Pavement was awesome, and no wonder people tried to hop on the slacker rock, Pavement bandwagon, but it wasn’t Modest Mouse’s sound. Their own sound was yet to come. Following the release of Good News For People Who Love Bad News, the band broke through the barriers separating mainstream from indie, releasing a Grammy-nominated, platinum record exposing Modest Mouse to listeners a little late, but certainly welcomed to the party.
Aside from releasing one of the best-received indie rock songs of all time, Float On, many of the deeper cuts on the album go equally hard. We scored Float On as the third-best indie rock song post-2000, and the ninth-best indie rock song of all time. Starting with a seamless transition from The World at Large, a jangly guitar line builds the song up through a heartwarming, swaying intro before Isaac Brock’s powerful, abrupt vocal style turns the song into a generational anthem, and that's not even mentioning the chorus. Float On is a uniquely Modest Mouse song, not really fitting into the well-laid-out indie subgenres of the day while still being deeply memorable. The track's singalong-style chorus turned into an earworm for millions of listeners who either already knew of Modest Mouse or were first introduced via track three of the record.
The Pacific Northwest indie sound instilled in Modest Mouse peaked through on the record often, but notably on what we would call the record's second finest track, Bukowski. This haunting, Americana-infused rock track exhibits more traditional-sounding string work, utilizing a banjo alongside the electric guitar. Dan Gallucci introduces a suspenseful guitar line, while Isaac Brock lays down some unsettling banjo plucking, resulting in a thought-provoking, unique-sounding, genre-bending track. Paired with an upright bass, a brush-wielding drummer, an accordion, and abrasive backing vocals, the song ought to be just as memorable to MM fans as Float On was, although that probably was not the case for mainstream listeners.
Following Bukowski, after reintroducing the record-opening horn intro, the band keeps the haunting Americana sound going on This Devil's Workday with Isaac Brock continuing his off-putting, dark-sounding lyrics, while the band backs him up with all sorts of peculiar sounds. The more rock-forward sound is reintroduced on The View, a danceable track remaining amongst one of the record's most remembered. Isaac Brock seemed to come into his own regarding his distinct, hard-hitting, abrasive vocal style on The Moon and Antarctica, but he really cements it as his own this time around, notably on The View. He’s a pretty good singer, but his strength certainly comes most greatly from his uniqueness. Short, staccato, and loud lyrical syllables make up much of the record's verses, before his voice softens out for the choruses, exposing his tonal ability as a vocalist. It’s certainly a tricky style to put into words, but it is a style that is unique to post-‘90s MM, especially on this record and the following one, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank.
Listeners who may only know the hits Float On or Ocean Breathes Salty might not realize just how dark this record is, especially the midsection of the album. Even though there are plenty of more rock-forward tracks, with the band hailing from the indie-folk haven of the Pacific Northwest, the Americana aspects were incredibly prominent, and at least on this record, Americana means dark. Satin in a Coffin sits as another stomp-and-holler-like track filled with dark lyrics and hellish instrumentation. Even though Float On turned out to be not only the biggest song on the record but by far Modest Mouse’s most well-known song, as great of a song as it is, it really wasn’t too emblematic of the record as a whole.
All in all, the record was more of an homage to the evolving Pacific Northwest indie sound, coming from a mixture of alternative rock and Americana sounds, different from many of the early 2000s indie rockers. It's more Decemberists than it is Strokes, even though it was recorded thousands of miles from the band's Pacific Northwest stomping ground. Certain songs definitely leave a longer-lasting impact than others, but the record sits, perhaps, as Modest Mouse’s finest studio album since its release.
It’s hard to believe this record turns twenty this year... Just another reminder of how time stops for no one, but after all these years, Good News still seems to hit the spot every time, one of multiple timeless Modest Mouse records. Although most listeners might just see this album cover and think of the lead-off single Float On, the rest of the record is pretty damn good too.