Ah, 1997. The year in which Elton John would capitalize on Princess Diana’s death with the #1 hit “Candle in the Wind” and also the year frosted white lip gloss would be considered a fashion trend. Yet thankfully it was still another a year in which rock music was going strong with now classic underground releases that played with heavy rotation on college rock stations. You know, back when DJ’s still mattered? (Tom Petty‘s The Last DJ released in 2002 proves this, God rest his soul)…
One of the rock outfits to really prove their talent and unfiltered style during this time was Washington band Modest Mouse.
Modest Mouse is in my opinion one of the greatest rock bands of the ’90s, riding out the last wave of pre-millennial rock music with their now classic sophomore album The Lonesome Crowded West. Released on November 18th, 1997, Lonesome Crowded West came out during a time when rock music had long melded into sub-genres like alternative and indie, as well as blossoming in new era electronic — such as same year releases Radiohead‘s OK Computer and Bjork’s Homogenic.
Since its release 20 years ago, Lonesome Crowded West has developed a cult following and the album has held its critical and commercial acclaim.
Pitchfork even listed the breakthrough release as #29 on their list of 100 Greatest Albums of the 1990’s. Needless to say, Modest Mouse did everything right with their second album and it still stands out as a special, unabashed sound amidst their entire discography.
For those who have not yet listened to Lonesome Crowded West, this album has everything you would ever want from an album. Who wouldn’t want to hear the ravings of lunatic frontman Isaac Brock vocalized alongside bittersweet sounding guitars groaning in minor?
The gritty, lisp-y shouting on tracks like “Teeth Like God’s Shoeshine” or “Convenient Parking” paired between the ballad-esque, phonogram dusted “Heart Cooks Brain” (containing one of the best uses of record scratching ever recorded) shows the range of sound you should expect on the rest of the album. If all that doesn’t get your rock blood tingling, there is even a fiddle jammed “Jesus Christ Was An Only Child.”
A concert favorite is the fast-paced, nail biting “Doin’ the Cockroach,” which attendees shout repeatedly throughout the whole length of the concert until Modest Mouse actually performs it (or at least that was my experience when I saw them play at the Fillmore in NC).
“Cowboy Dan” symbolizes a general theme found within Lonesome Crowded West:
the longing to be somewhere simpler… back to familiarized roots after being submerged into the urbanized, ever-demanding world; the inner frontiersperson in us all.
“Well, Cowboy Dan’s a major player in the cowboy scene
He goes to the reservation drinks and gets mean
He drove to the desert, fired his rifle in the sky
And says, ‘God if I have to die you will have to die’
Well, Cowboy Dan’s a major player in the cowboy scene
He goes the the reservation drinks and gets mean
I didn’t move to the city, the city moved to me
And I want out desperately“
Another highlight is the downright insane “Shit Luck,” thrashing onto the speaker like a tornado destroying a trailer park.
Tracks entitled “Trailer Trash,” “Long Distance Drunk” and “Polar Opposites” all sound like past relationships of mine, the only difference here being I actually long to relive the madness of those times from Isaac Brock’s perspective:
“Hang it up now or never
Hang it up again
Hang it up now or never
Hang it up againDoesn’t seem like anything you’re saying or doing or doing
Is making any sense” – “Long Distance Drunk”
Ending with the melodramatic ballad “Bankrupt on Selling” before an epic closer (which holds the repeated demented phrasing “IT’S ALL NICE ON ICE, ALRIGHT!”) Lonesome Crowded West is one hell of a rock record, putting Modest Mouse on the map as well as leaving a legacy in the alt-rock movement of the late ’90s.
Modest Mouse went on to prove their genius with other releases, such as Moon and Antarctica, Good News For People Who Love Bad News, We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank and my other favorite (and often overlooked) Building Nothing Out Of Something. But if not for their 1997 sophomore release, Modest Mouse may never have garnered the cult following which has no doubt aided in their success ever since.
For my own inquiry I asked my brother (another music nerd) what he loved about the album, and his response is worth noting: “It is a really transparent album and you can feel the balance shifting between madness and genius in Isaac Brock. That’s all early Modest Mouse albums though. [Transparent] as in it was like a window into Isaac’s soul when he wrote it and you can feel every struggle, pain, anger, and depression he felt. That’s what makes it a great piece of art.”
So go back and listen to Lonesome Crowded West and let me know how it holds up today and if you also consider it an alt-rock classic.
- Produced by Calvin Johnson with Isaac Brock and Scott Swayze (no relation to Patrick)
- Engineered by Scott Swayze
- Released by Up Records