You Can’t Teach an Old Mouse New Tricks
A sad truth about music is that artists get old. Although it is often hard to remember, they are humans just like us. This means that they, no matter how badly we want them to, never stay the same for very long.
It is tough to imagine young superstars like Wiz Khalifa, Lady Gaga or Lil B getting old and wearing out, but we are reminded of their mortality when we compare songs like Eminem’s “Mockingbird” (2005) and “The Real Slim Shady” (1999).
“Mockingbird” has an entirely different, darker style, and is an example of how Eminem’s life experiences shaped him as an artist. This change is entirely reflected in the way his musical style and themes developed and matured.
The song is an emotional, serious message to his daughter about his lack of involvement in her life. The emotion in this song relates to the conflict between his fame and family life — an issue that young Eminem, while writing “The Real Slim Shady,” had not encountered yet. It’s pretty cool to see the way artists can change, but at the same time we become nostalgic of the way they used to be.
I tend to prefer music from artists in their earlier stages. They are full of life at this point, but in a naïve and more relatable way. They have not yet become altered by the “famous musician” lifestyle, and they perform in their most natural style. For the most part it seems that artists do one of two things as they get older: sell out and adopt a more mainstream sound, or become boring and unable to deliver the “punch” they once had.
There are certainly exceptions, like Eminem, The Beatles, Ween and The Cure. As these artists developed, their style matured independently of what the music industry expected of them. They stayed true to their style and innovated their aesthetics.
Modest Mouse, despite their indie style, seems to have fallen down the mainstream route.
They recorded the album Sad Sappy Sucker in 1994, before they even got signed to a label, and its lo-fi and untampered with quality sounds amazing. Songs like “Four Fingered Fisherman” and “Worms vs. Birds” feature such simple lyrics, but can be infinitely interpreted in a metaphorical sense. When listening, one can tell that the band made these songs for the love and beauty of music, not to subscribe to anyone’s expectations. The songs are incredibly original and unlike anything else.
The mood of the album seems to express the band’s struggle with finding oneself, a theme that is especially relatable to young adults. The band members themselves were in their late teens at the time they recorded the album, and the authenticity of this mood is hard not to notice. Not to mention, their drug use was in full swing in this young adult phase.
The next four albums that Modest Mouse produced developed this sound even further. They dropped the lo-fi quality of their sound but continued to make highly original music. Their first studio recorded album, This is a Long Drive for Someone with Nothing to Think About, is brimming with very authentic and beautiful songs. They trademarked a self-conscious, slow, spacey sound that I love. However, these albums placed Modest Mouse under US Billboard Chart’s watchful eye.
However, as Modest Mouse matured, their music started sounding more and more produced, and it began feeling less authentic. Songs like “Float On” and “Dashboard,” while popular, are vastly different from anything on This is a Long Drive… They feature catchy, fast-paced and poppy guitar riffs and drum beats — the total opposite of the slow, sad Modest Mouse I loved on the early albums.
When I saw them in concert last summer, I was expecting them to at least play a few of their earlier slow songs. Sadly, however, they only played their fast-paced popular songs. I was left wondering, “What happened to the original Modest Mouse?”
The truth is that young Modest Mouse will never exist again. And that is a large part of what makes their early music so beautiful and unique — nothing like it will be created again.
It is impossible to please every fan — there will be those in favor of and against every single change an artist makes. But if you find music you love, that music will always exist. It has already been created. Regardless of what the artist goes on to create, that slice of his/her life will be preserved perfectly, and will always be there when you need it.
I will always love Modest Mouse no matter what they do, because their original music is on my computer to stay — no one is taking them from me.
TYLER WEBB will be appreciating the classics all week long and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.