Sad Sappy Sucker has had a storied history. Initially, it was a 15 track album intended for use as Modest Mouse's debut, yet it went unreleased until a year after they signed to a major label, at which point more tracks were added to it. And now it has been re-issued on main Mouse Isaac Brock's Glacial Pace label. As the band have no concrete plans to release an album soon, it seems as good a time as any to return to their beginning.
Compared to the lengthy, dense albums which would come to define Modest Mouse, Sad Sappy Sucker is well, neither lengthy nor dense. As a matter of fact, there's a charming simplicity and leanness to these songs, even at their most elliptical; 'Classy Plastic Lumber' itself goes through three separate parts, from the lo-fi spoken intro to the thrashing mid-section with vocals to the bright, bouncing guitar solo...and back to the thrashing part. All the while, the song never sounds cluttered or willfully complex, and it's over in a bit over two minutes. Existing as a trio for a long time, Modest Mouse were always brilliant at making their songs sound much fuller than they really are, and I mean this even before their budget got bigger on The Moon & Antarctica and they used more overdubs. This gift was already showing up on tracks like 'From Point A To Point B (Infinity)' and especially 'Dukes Up', which sounds like a blueprint for the band's first two albums with its bounding bass lines, flashy-but-not-busy drumming, and Brock's malleable guitar playing, which seems to exist as both rhythm and lead simultaneously.
As is often the case with the early recordings of bands, the real treats on Sad Sappy Sucker come in the surprises that don't quite fit in with the rest of their discography. Generally these are the shorter, more minimalist tracks that sound like they were recorded alone by Brock. 'Think Long' makes a case for the accordion as a great match for morbid lyrics. 'Blue Cadet-3, Do You Connect?' would have ended the original version of the album with a haunting guitar moaning along for about a minute as Brock repeats the song title over and over. Admittedly, the songs that were added to Sad Sappy Sucker when it was first issued in 2001 are throwaway sketches (reportedly taken from songs Brock had recorded on his answering machine) and demos that never went anywhere. But 'BMX Crash' has a fidelity and organ-like keyboard sound that reminds me of what early Daniel Johnston might have sounded like if he was into drugs instead of religion, while the final three songs are strangely affecting and resonate with me for some reason.
“Make us depressed or just sad/make us happy or something”, Brock songs on 'Sin Gun Chaser', a sentiment that seems strangely direct and artless for a man who would go on to pen quotable lyrics with sophistication and strangeness to spare. There's a reason Mark Kozelek chose to a do a covers album of Modest Mouse songs, but there is also a reason that he chose to only cover one song from Sad Sappy Sucker. A 'for fans only' release through and through, Sucker is better than many early, raw recordings by better bands though I think everyone would agree their eventual actual debut album, This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About, is indeed better in every way.
4 Poorly Drawn Stars Out Of 5