Eight seconds into Motion City Soundtrack's third studio album, Even If It Kills Me, flashes from the band's previous albums come surging back to life. In the wake of their sophomore success, the Minneapolis quintet strikes ardently and often in what can be considered their most expressive album to date. Led by frontman Justin Pierre's hummingbird vocals and crash-collision lyrics, the album strives to prove that pop-punk rock is far from a finale.
The album itself - a product of Epitaph Records - is engineered by three different producers. Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne bassist) and Eli Janney teamed up to produce a majority of the album, while Ric Ocasek, former leader of The Cars, produced only five songs but lays more claim to the album's recognizable but refurbished sound. In the tracks "Last Night" and MCS's selected single, "Broken Heart," Ocasek's vision seems to revolve around the band's burly hooks and evident synthetic unity. Overall, the album sounds tighter than their debut, I Am the Movie, and builds on the Mark Hoppus-produced Commit This to Memory of 2005.
Even If It Kills Me, modishly emotional with its rhythmical moog synthesizer overlapping serrated and resonating guitar riffs, hits a dead spot halfway through with "The Conversation." Unlike the other 13 tracks, "The Conversation" was produced by the band itself and plays as their acoustic hiccup in an otherwise fluent and fluorescent triumph. The failure of the song, manifest in a building piano that never tapers off, is only a letdown compared to the other songs and might have been successful had Dashboard Confessional or Jimmy Eat World covered it.
The album is quick to rebuild though, as the remaining tracks prove to be the better half of the album. Drummer Tony Thaxton particularly shines in "Broken Heart" with a stylized 16- note beat that arcs from high-hat to floor tom in the first 30 seconds of the verse.
The true victory of the album lies below all the bright paint of bittersweet, bopping beats and a bass that pulls every instrument close like a tractor beam. Underneath it all are the sincere yet silly words of Pierre; sappy and sometimes loveless verses and choruses. The first words on the album repeat, "last night I fell in love without you" and the final echo professes, "even if it kills me." While not all songs evoke a "swallowed-heart" state of mind, Pierre's most tender confessions call out to every heartbroken boy and half-hearted girl of the band's "Boombox Generation." He sings with certain composure but, as always, never takes himself too seriously, uttering lines like "she shaves her legs with Ginsu knives" to soften the authenticity.
MCS has come far since 2002. With their third release under the Epitaph banner, they have proven to both themselves and the world that words can burn fiercely and shattered hearts can make beautiful sounds.