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.