[3 December 2007]
PopMatters Music Reviews Editor
Motion City Soundtrack is pop-punk’s quintessential pop-rock band. While their quirky synths, catchy-as-hell choruses, and bouncy guitars have always painted a florescent pink background, it’s their honestly simple lyrics that make Minneapolis’s most interesting five-piece so attractive.
So attractive that they have won over the likes of every famous pop-punker that cover your little sister’s walls. From Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus to Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump, it has become nearly impossible to find a high-profile girl-jean wearing stud that hasn’t, at one point, name-dropped the lads from Motion City. And it even extends to the executives too.
Their debut, I Am the Movie, was quickly picked up by powerhouse indie Epitaph, and their follow up, Commit This to Memory generated the WB-lovin’ moderate hit “Everything Is Alright”. Both albums featured guest spots from the aforementioned Hoppus and Stump. The former even manned the boards for MCS’s second effort. Both albums aimed the spotlight at the band’s signature keyboard-driven sound and lead-singer Justin Pierre’s high-pitched tone. And while both certainly gained the band a much wider allegiance of fans, neither release could be considered groundbreaking by any means.
And neither could album number three. But that’s not necessarily bad. Though Even If It Kills Me remains far from breaking ground any time soon, MCS’s third full-length release definitely stays true to the format Mr. Pierre and his band mates have seemingly perfected over the years. As they are keeping current fans content, they don’t appear to have any interest in gaining new ones.
“Fall in Love Without You”, the album’s first track, is predictably fun, packed with a fast tempo and spattered with higher-pitched synth sounds. Drummer Tony Thaxton’s creative beat throughout the verse and the band’s in-your-face chorus may stay true to the Motion City formula, but in this case, that’s more than a good thing. Plus, while Pierre croons the chorus line “And only time will tell if violins will swell / In memory of what we used to call ‘in love’”, his heartbroken voice sounds a little more honest than he has in previous efforts, setting the tone for the entire beaten-up record.
“Last Night”‘s borderline bluegrass feel makes for a nice switch in texture on Even If It Kills Me. Though the teenage angst remains intact with lines like “I’m still frustrated from last night” and “And I still don’t know who I am”, the fast, simplistic tempo should keep any listener’s attention for the entire duration of the track. And the cute keyboard lines only make that task easier.
It’s no secret that it’s MCS’s inconsolably simplistic wit that has made them cult heroes. Pierre’s unapologetic willingness to use a line like “Let’s get wrecked on Pop Tarts and sex and see the Taj Mahal” on the Beach Boys-esque “It Had to Be You”, and the palpable snark in a line such as “It’s a shitty thing to say / But hey man, the clock is ticking” on the pleasant “Why Can’t You Finish What You Started” is really what makes Even If It Kills Me shine.
But what sets this album apart from the Minneapolis boys’ previous two releases is Pierre’s venture into waters he has yet to tackle. “The Conversation” is the closest thing club-packing pop-punk will ever come to arena-rocking balladry. The hopelessness of Pierre’s voice, with nothing but a piano as his blanket, certainly, if nothing else, makes this track the most unexpected of the 13 that appear on the album. It’s just too hard to not believe him when he desperately moans “I can’t explain, I need to be alone”.
Motion City Soundtrack fans have never asked something of the band that they know they can’t do. That said, Even If It Kills Me proves to be a perfect third album for all types of MCS fans. From the ones that have followed them from their early Minnesota backyard-playing days, to the fans that would love to see them headline arenas throughout the nation, this album has proven its loyalty to the sound that gained Motion City Soundtrack it’s legion of fans—colorful pop-punk led by a guy with tremendous hair singing about his heart being broken. Though, fortunately for any listener, this time his heart seems a little more fragile and his hair seems a little more frazzled. And in this case, that’s good. Real good.