In anticipation of the release of the next Mountain Goats album, coming out at the end of the month, I have been listening to the entire back discography of the band and for some reason I have been coming back to this album. Let us consider this magnificent album and the ramifications of its release on the band and the direction that it started to take after it, leading up to the forthcoming album, All Eternals Deck.
To begin with, the album is full of material that is considerably more based on real life than the numerous albums that came before it. Prior to this album, the songs had been more or less entirely fictitious — with, of course, the standard injection of the author into the writing of the work. Here, the songs, one after another, are based on lead musician John Darnielle’s personal experiences living as a teenager in California and Oregon.
Another departure with this album is that it is one of the first Mountain Goats albums that is recorded in a professional studio environment with a full backing band. The majority of the albums released prior to this one were recorded on a simple boombox with nothing but an acoustic guitar and his own voice to lead Darnielle through the magnificent lyrics.
One of the most wrenching songs on the album is Mole, which I believe is about meth addiction. John sings,
I came to see you up there in intensive care
They had handcuffed you to your bed
There were tubes going into you and out from you
Bright white gauze bandages at your head
One can only imagine what a traumatizing experience it must have been, going to visit with a friend in a hospital, praying that the claws of drug addiction would not kill them.
Another gem of a track can be found in the song “Home Again Garden Grove.” At a steady fast clip, Darnielle sings about how quickly the dreams of youth can be crushed. We go from “I can remember when we were in high school / Our dreams were like fugitive warlords” straight to this:
Now we are practical men of the world
We tether our dreams to the turf
And cruise down these alleys for honey to feed them
Jellyfish riding the surf
Shoving our heads straight into the guts of the stove
It reminds me of when I was in grade school and we were told that if we wanted to, we could grow up and be president one day. What they always fail to tell the kids in the classroom that in the entire two hundred and thirty five year history of the country, hundreds of millions of people have lived and died and of those people, only forty-four were President of the United States.
Song after song, this album really hits you with both the emotion of the stories told by Darnielle and the powerful music behind the lyrics.
Lyrics like these really touch me:
This song is for the people
Who tell their families that they’re sorry
For things they can’t and won’t feel sorry for
I can’t help but think of all of the times I have heard the word ‘sorry’ from people who weren’t sorry, and who certainly didn’t even know why they were apologizing — it was almost as though they were saying it more to make themselves feel better than to genuinely reach out and express remorse for wrongdoing.
While waiting for “All Eternals Deck” you can re-listen to “We Shall All Be Healed” — it’s one of the best albums by The Mountain Goats and does not get tiresome, even after multiple listens.