Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

The Mountain Goats meander through the rock-opera kitsch of Jenny from Thebes

"Jenny from Thebes"

Release date: 27 October 2023
The Mountain Goats Jenny From Thebes cover
27 October 2023, 09:00 Written by Noah Barker

Bruce Springsteen has it hard.

Look past billions in ticket sales, affectionate nicknames, best-selling, Grammy-winning records, and every single garage act with a horn section gets labelled as your bastard child.

Harder still is that every rock opera or close brush with theatre music has to be paternity tested out of consideration. This is where Jenny from Thebes quaintly asks all of its friends if they want to wander into its one-man show and stay until Act Two, maybe Act Three if they’re really into it. As The Mountain Goats get to that middle portion of their catalogue where they are neither elder statesmen nor precocious self-starters, they have rested on their ability to change musical identities between projects and self-mythologize like a self-insert cameo from a Rick Riordan novel.

Jenny from Thebes, depending on one’s fascination with The Mountain Goats’ 30-odd years of winding lore, may either have the connotation of your dad and his group of friends finally getting around to making that album they always talked about, or, where charity applies, stay just high enough above passability that it can be recommended by fans with the asterisk, ‘one of the better ones.’ There’s resolute shame in hearing John Darnielle’s typical dry humour and sense of narrative stretched thin over an instrumental palette three degrees north of corporate cleanliness and 5 degrees west of The Boss. Still waiting on that paternity test.

The dark comedy representative of much of their catalogue is found breathlessly lounging around the tracklist, waiting for you to ask about its day and wondering if you thought hard enough about that last one-liner. One would be more inclined to if the propulsive romps of “Murder at the 18th St. Garage” and “Clean Slate” were not so jaunty and sickeningly sweet that I grew cavities out of a contact high. If there was a virtue in the 70s of a singer-songwriter being able to string an album along the same four chords in alternate orders, then it’s lost at the starting line of this record; especially due to the fact that ‘four chords’ was often a myth and those Californians could play “Giant Steps” with the ease of “Hot Cross Buns.” The Mountain Goats, on the other hand, shows that simplicity can often be a vice when dealing with theatricality.

Reading the tea leaves of Jenny From Thebes after I’ve finished the glass, I’m moved by the ‘one more time with spirit’ attitude its impression has left. An idea can be well-structured and divinely written alongside an atmosphere that amputates its charm, especially due to its precarious likeness to another. Jenny is not an offensively terrible time, nor is it one I regret incurring, for in the woodworks, I have found another child. Congrats, Bruce. It’s a girl. Her name is Jenny, and she’s telling me one has to imagine Sisyphus happy.

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