Review Summary: Finally.
It really could quite easily have killed them. When Motion City Soundtrack announced that the follow-up to their 2007 pop-fest would take them into Major Label Territory™, the outlook seemed bleak; a more polished, more textbook rendition of their most polished and textbook record hardly sparked excitement among fans of their earlier, more accomplished releases. It very much appeared that the Minnesota quintet's undeniable songwriting talents were destined to become suffocated under a mess of gimmicks and near-self-parody, left to meander without direction or purpose. So likely did this outcome seem that even teaser-track 'Disappear's relatively aggressive nature didn't truly serve to quell the fears, and so as My Dinosaur Life
plays through for the first time, it's difficult to form a coherent opinion above the surprise. Simply put, Motion City Soundtrack's 4th LP feels like they've actually gathered their hyperactive, varied musical tendencies into an actual sound. It doesn't sound artificial; it doesn't sound like it's winking at you; it sounds like a real band.
And the thing is that the ingredients have always been there, they just needed to be harnessed: I Am The Movie
's raw, pop-punk edge; Justin Pierre's unmistakable sugary vocal tone and clever lyrical stylings; Commit This To Memory
's euphoric synths and cyclic melodies... the list just goes on. But where Even If It Kills Me
drew lines through ideas to form an infuriatingly stretched-out circle, the band's second collaboration with Blink-182's Mark Hoppus reduces that scattered graph to a much more concise and lasting formula. Take opener 'Worker Bee' as a prime example; where two years ago the song would probably have maintained its initial medium tempo for a full 3 minutes, here drummer Tony Thaxton injects the pace necessary to match Pierre's desperate tone, all of which is fleshed out by catchy guitars and piano flurries. The centrepoint that is their upbeat, hook-laden pop-rock exists almost everywhere you look, manipulated creatively in terms of volume and velocity, and so although a track like 'Disappear' – relentless and almost heavy – sits at the opposite end of the spectrum to a gentle, up-tempo ballad like 'Stand Too Close', they still seem like two faces of the same group of musicians.
The production on My Dinosaur Life
is the sort of thing that will make a pop-rock fan swoon; where Even If It Kills Me
was overtly smooth, the band's new material is mixed in a way that gives it an accessible aesthetic without compromising the sincerity of the recordings. Stand-out 'Pulp Fiction's chorus boasts a cinematic, high-pitched guitar line which accompanies Pierre's ridiculously catchy narrow melody, so that as he sings 'the plot sucks but the killings are gorgeous'
there is genuine depth to the musicianship. The record is one unashamedly (and deservedly) founded on its songwriting, but it also leaps out occasionally with an injection of impressive instrumentalism or, even more frequently, vocal brilliance, such as Pierre's octave jump at the end of 'History Lesson', which is both astounding and fitting at the same time.
My Dinosaur Life
isn't a perfect album by any means, but it's a resounding success for a band whose fourth album couldn't afford to be anything less. It houses numerous tangents which expand on Motion City Soundtrack's back catalogue at the same time as consolidating their strengths and discarding the things that sometimes made them awkward or difficult to take serious. Sure, My Dinosaur Life
remains an entirely fun experience, but it blends that trademark smirk with the necessary restraint and spark to produce a record which removes any doubt that Motion City Soundtrack are the masters of their own fate. It's an uncharacteristically consistent release from a band I once proclaimed would soon be declared the heavyweight champions of power-pop. Now might be a good time.