John Darnielle's God Is Not Great

The delusional tragic heroes of Mountain Goats songs are as doomed as ever

If villains find a home on earth, heroes only suffer displacement. "Sept. 15th 1983" laments the murder of reggae singer Prince Far I: "Try, try your whole life to be righteous and be good/Wind up on your own floor, choking on blood." Or, as on "Lovecraft in Brooklyn," they buckle to paranoia: "Woke up afraid of my own shadow/Like, genuinely afraid/Headed for the pawnshop to buy myself a switchblade." Characters in Darnielle's songs have always fallen to their faults, but their faults are usually more clear-cut: selfishness, irresponsibility, violence. The only fault on Heretic Pride turns out to be having faith. Prince Far I, shot thanks to causes totally out of his control, bleeds to death on a floor and still dreams of Israel, the home God has promised for him. The meth addicts on We Shall All Be Healed were every bit as delusional, but at least they were on drugs. Here, it's hard to tell whether Prince Far I's convictions are being pitied or celebrated—actually, they're both.

Darnielle's in the middle, though that might actually be Gabriel Byrne.
Chrissy Piper
Darnielle's in the middle, though that might actually be Gabriel Byrne.

Details

The Mountain Goats play Webster Hall March 18 (websterhall.com) and the Music Hall of Williamsburg (musichallofwilliamsburg.com) March 19.

Before dedicating himself full-time to music, Darnielle worked as a psychiatric nurse and a children's counselor. "Most of what you learn from these jobs is respect and love for people who've been dealt a raw hand by life—and most of the other things you learn, it would be kind of unseemly to talk about," he says. His past albums have considered the people who have been dealt raw hands and gambled everything anyway; Heretic Pride pans up to the dealer. How can these situations exist? Why do bad people get away with bad things while good people get shot during dinner? The album's characters are infinitely less complicated than meth addicts or abusive couples, but the world they live in has become convoluted and dangerous. It's a place where heretic pride gets you a Springsteenian anthem about being buried alive in a public square, while sexual violence is perpetrated under a canopy of violins—a world so unsettlingly familiar that it's kind of him to pretend it's only pulp fiction.

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