For the last few weeks, indie band The Mountain Goats has been doing some clever viral marketing—first via stickers and cards available at recent live shows, and then in the last few days via a series of cryptic Instagram posts featuring the same images and texts from the show merch—for an upcoming project that has finally been revealed. Turns out The Mountain Goats are reviving their character "Jenny" (from the eponymous song "Jenny" off the 2002 album All Hail West Texas; Jenny appears in several other songs from their catalog, as well) in a new project that JB Hi-Fi calls a "widescreen musical." The new album is titled "Jenny from Thebes," and will be released October 27, 2023.
Before describing the new project, I need to give you a bit of background on "Jenny." Mountain Goats-centric blog "A Few Things, Maybe Several Things" provides this great overview of "Jenny" the song and Jenny the character:
The fantasy of running away from life's problems is a seemingly real possibility in "Jenny."
Album: All Hail West Texas (2002)
Jenny is a character in four Mountain Goats songs. She calls the narrator in "Straight Six" and "Night Light" and she sends postcards in "Source Decay." She's only an active participant in the song that bears her name. In "Jenny" she shows up on a motorcycle and steals the narrator away into a night free of consequence. They roar off and chant a happy tune. This is the ideal vision that you want when things are not going well.
John Darnielle says that Jenny doesn't show up when things are going well for people. All four songs show us characters that are struggling and characters that want to live in better times. We don't know enough to know if these fears are warranted. "Jenny" unites these ideas and helps us understand what Jenny, the character, is supposed to represent. She's a lack of responsibility and a chance at a simpler, better life. Is that actually better? It depends on your perspective and your dreams for yourself, but these characters seem to believe it would work for them, thank you.
By the end of the song "Jenny," even God has taken eyes off of these characters. In the context of the song, this represents a lack of pressure to a cosmic degree. Everything is open to this narrator and Jenny, and that means that everything that came before isn't a concern anymore. In most situations, you wouldn't trade your entire past for a clean slate. You mostly are a product of your past and you hope to learn from mistakes and benefit from experience to improve your future. Even still, you can appreciate the desire to hop on the back of the bike and ride off with Jenny.
So, YAY, in news that is incredibly exciting for Mountain Goats fans, Jenny is back! JB Hi-Fi describes the upcoming album:
Jenny from Thebes began its life as many albums by the Mountain Goats do, with John Darnielle playing the piano until a lyric emerged. That lyric, "Jenny was a warrior / Jenny was a thief / Jenny hit the corner clinic begging for relief," became "Jenny III," a song which laid down a challenge he'd never taken up before: writing a sequel to one of his most beloved albums.
The Mountain Goats' catalog is thick with recurring characters—Jenny, who originally appears in the All Hail West Texas track bearing her name, as well as in "Straight Six" from Jam Eater Blues and Transcendental Youth side two jam "Night Light," is one of these, someone who enters a song unexpectedly, pricking up the ears of fans who are keen on continuing the various narrative threads running through the Mountain Goats' discography before vanishing into the mist. In these songs, Jenny is largely defined by her absence, and she is given that definition by other characters. She is running from something. These features are beguiling, both to the characters who've told her story so far and to the listener. They invite certain questions: Who is Jenny, really? What is she running from? Well, she's a warrior and a thief, and, this being an album by the Mountain Goats, it's a safe bet whatever she's fleeing is something bad. Something catastrophically bad.
Jenny from Thebes is the story of Jenny, her southwestern ranch style house, the people for whom that house is a place of safety, and the west Texas town that is uncomfortable with its existence. It is a story about the individual and society, about safety and shelter and those who choose to provide care when nobody else will.
Recorded at Tulsa, Oklahoma's legendary The Church Studio with Grammy-winning producer/engineer Trina Shoemaker, Jenny from Thebes is a lush collection of showtunes, pushing Darnielle as a vocalist and the Mountain Goats as a band, broadening their sonic palette once again by leaning into influences like Godspell, Jim Steinman, and The Cars.
Lifted by Matt Douglas' horn and string arrangements, the dreamy guitar of Bully leader (and Bleed Out producer) Alicia Bognanno, and backing vocals from Kathy Valentine of The Go-Go's and Matt Nathanson, Jenny from Thebes is a widescreen musical in scope, a melodrama of richly detailed characters and sweeping emotions.