As a music critic, I feel that it’s my job to convey to the reader not only the perfunctory information regarding any given release, but also try to describe the listening experience, and when necessary, how the overall package puts the music into context. Promo or advance CDs, for the most part, contain everything a critic would need to do his or her job. But, we live in age of piracy, and record companies are doing their best to clamp down on what they perceive to be an escalating problem. One of the ways in which they do this is by placing computer arresting software onto a disc, which severely limits how you can play and listen to a disc. One of the newest trends is the 99-track CD. This completely ludicrous attempt at prevent piracy chops up a disc and spreads it out, the logic being, that it can’t be directly ripped and put on the internet.
I listen to most of my music at work, as it helps speed along an otherwise mind-numbing day. I wasn’t pleased that Motion City Soundtrack’s CD was going to be spread out (it makes referencing tracks a nightmare), but I was willing to deal with it. Even the absence of any artwork or lyrics I was ready to contend with. What I wasn’t willing to deal with was the disc promptly freezing my iTunes, locking my CD tray, and, finally, crashing my computer. And this just wasn’t one freak occurrence—this happened three times. After a day of work, I don’t have a lot of time to listen to music at home, but I had no choice but to set aside time. And when I finally got around to listening Commit This to Memory, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Motion City Soundtrack, whose PR team has given such a shoddy presentation for an otherwise decent disc.
Produced with a remarkably keen ear by Blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus, Commit This to Memory is an infectious dose of straight-ahead pop-punk. Devoid of the whiny over-emoting (Simple Plan) or gothic dramatic overtures (My Chemical Romance) that seems to plague much of the MTV2 dial, Motion City Soundtrack combine smartly observed lyrics with efficient songwriting for a resulting disc that is both intelligent and fun.
The disc is front-loaded with the album’s two best songs. Opener “Attractive Today” is propelled by Jesse Johnson’s big shiny Moog, which takes center stage and swirls beautifully around the track’s tight melody. “Everything Is Alright” asserts singer Justin Pierre as the focus for the rest of the disc, throwing his voice front and center, buoyed by Johnson’s loose Moog and Tony Thaxton’s clockwork drumming. Further enhanced by Hoppus’ inventive production, these tracks hold back during the verses, before exploding into brilliant widescreen in the speaker-expanding choruses.
But after these two fired-up offerings, the middle section of the disc sags under a plethora of mid-tempo tracks. Though well written, they indistinguishably blend into one another, lacking the hooks and propulsion of the disc openers. But what will keep the headphones on for most listeners are Pierre’s lyrical turns.
Recalling an early Rivers Cuomo (when he knew how to balance humor and sincerity), Pierre’s earnest lyrics have a healthy dose of much needed self-deprecation. Take for instance the introduction of two lovers in “Make Out Kids”: “She’s into math and magazines/ Director’s cuts and gray cell green/ Armed with an eye for contradictions/ She sees completely through me/ I’m fond of Twin Peaks afternoons/ Inexpensive wine with cordon bleu/ Armed with a plethora of insecurities/ We keep each other amused.” Or take “L.G. Fuad”, in which Pierre even questions the effectiveness of his own musings: “I wanna know what it’s like to be awkward and innocent, not belligerent/ I wanna know how it feels to be useful and pertinent and have common sense/ Let me in, let me in to the club, cuz I wanna belong/ And I need to get strong, and if memory serves/ I’m addicted to words and they’re useless.” Confident and questioning, earnest and unsure, these lyrics ring undeniably true.
By the time things rev back up into high gear again with “Better Open the Door” and “Hangman” on the far side of the tracklisting, its too little too late. With the balance of the disc leaning on the ballad side of things, Commit This to Memory feels awkwardly lopsided. But the journey through Pierre’s sharply realized world is worth taking and keeps the band a step ahead of the punk rock pack. And though the terrain might start looking the same from time to time, there are definitely highlights throughout that you’ll want to visit again and again.