Here we are again, Motion City Soundtrack and I. Our sizzling nerd sex is back with their third Epitaph release, Even If It Kills Me. Of course, the question here is not if the performance will be up to par. The question here is whether it will blow me out of the water, in which Justin Pierre and crew are certainly capable. I Am The Movie is justifiably priceless and Commit This To Memory is a careful and successful step into a growing style and sound. When I first heard Even If It Kills Me, I felt the hooks, felt the clever shapes, and felt what could be, but it needed to grow. Now, moments away from release day, MCS are wrapping their vines around my ankles and reeling me in like a helpless fish. What a turn-on.
In classic form, the nerdy Midwest pop-rock quintet open the album with “Fell In Love Without You.” Brazen synth kickstarts with a fastball and a reassuring glance to all its old school listeners; MCS lets us know that they haven’t forgotten I Am The Movie. Within these first moments, MCS prove two things: they have an impeccable understanding of what makes interesting arrangements (see also “Where I Belong” or “This Is For Real”), and it’s impossible for MCS to release music that isn’t simultaneously snarky and fun (see also “Point of Extinction”). As the album moves along, there is a greater concentration on guitar flair and interesting riffs than synth overload, a likeness to Commit This To Memory. MCS opens up their structures to create a more flowing, spacious and wistful appeal, like on the sprinkled high notes of “Last Night” and poignant ending to “Hello Helicopter.”
The production is a two-thirds split by tag-team Fountain of Wayne’s Adam Schlesinger/Girls vs. Boys’ Eli Janney and the man with a pop-rock super resume, Ric Ocasek (Weezer, The Cars). Both sides of the production work go for your standard pop-rock hugeness, but my favorite tracks off the album (“Point of Extinction” and “Hello Helicopter”) come from the Schlesinger/Janney camp. The vocal work on Even If It KillsMe is delivered faultlessly and at a flattering level – Pierre works an intimacy that fills every little splinter and the far corners of a big room. This is a kind of closeness that wasn’t as special on I Am The Movie or Commit This To Memory. And even though it’s always been easy to fall for Pierre’s cunning, pop-cultured and backhanded-dark lyricism, it’s not hard for me to find moments on the album where I connect with the music on more than a sing-along level. The chorus of “Can’t Finish What You Started” hits close to home with “I thought of all the things I’d like to say / Cramped up and couldn’t write a word all day / I’m just waiting for my world to fall apart / That’s why I’ll never finish anything I start.”
However, we are talking pop-rock. A critical aspect of pop-rock is hook appeal, right? And it wouldn’t be MCS if there weren’t a carnival of melodic rides and cotton-candy overdoses, right? Shooting back to the two previous records, I hesitate to say that Even If It Kills Meis their catchiest work to date. My two favorites – “Point of Extinction” and “Hello Helicopter” – beat anything on CTTM and maybe IATM, but to encompass all of Even If It Kills Me as a ecstatic pop excursion would be giving too much credit to my least favorites – “Calling All Cops” and dreary band-produced piano ballad “The Conversation.” Heading back to CTTM also makes me realize how much I loved Mark Hoppus’ handiwork. While, like I mentioned before, the production on this album is a perfect fit for Pierre, Hoppus did neat things with the arrangements and effects on CTTM. I sort-of miss these. For the non-progressionists, songs like “I Fell In Love Without You” and “It Had To Be You” are the closest you’re going to get to IATM. Even so, it’s obvious the band is growing up. This is the most endearing quality about Even If It Kills Me because I’ve grown up too.
So MCS and I have our long-awaited nerd sex. Pop-tarts are scattered on the bed like rose petals. This time, it’s a lot more personal, but this may also be because I’ve stuck with and adored MCS since IATM first entered my life. If this classifies as a bias, then this will be the case, but the bottom line is that MCS never fails to release clever pop-rock. Even If It Kills Me is another worthy notch in their bedpost.