“It’s been a good year / A good new beginning,” Justin Pierre croons on the opening track of Motion City Soundtrack’s new album, My Dinosaur Life. “I’m through with the old school / So let’s commence the winning.” Not a bad sentiment for a gray and gloomy January, eh? “I’ve been a good little worker bee,” he wheedles, “I deserve a gold star.”
Irony alert! You can wait forever for those gold stars, loser. Motion City Soundtrack totally gets that; in fact, it’s the cornerstone of the worldview on My Dinosaur Life, an irony-laced ode to disappointment and the extinction of youthful dreams. Motion City Soundtrack have had their share of gold stars, of course – their two previous albums, 2006’s Commit This To Memory and 2007’s Even If It Kills Me, were indie bestsellers heaped with media acclaim, and with My Dinosaur Life they are now officially major-label artists. But as those opening lines prove, success hasn’t taken the edge off the raging anxiety that has always been a major factor in their appeal.
With Blink 182’s Mark Hoppus as producer, My Dinosaur Life keeps the energy level high, with blasts of thrashing guitars and hyperkinetic drums, buzzed up with moog synthesizers. Yet Motion City Soundtrack’s brand of pop-punk is fueled more by angst than by anger. Their songs soar with melodies, catchy hooks, yearning vocals, and — most of all – memorably snarky lyrics, sprinkled with savvy cultural references. (Flashback to early Elvis Costello.)
The challenge for this album was not only to resist major-label slickness; it was also to shift from adolescent insecurity — that indie-emo staple emotion — into depicting the self-doubt of adult slackerhood. Motion City Soundtrack is ancient in indie-band years, having been founded in Minneapolis 13 years ago; its members are now in their early 30s. Growing old gracefully just doesn’t seem to be in the cards, though. Consider for example the protagonist of “Her Words Destroyed My Planet,” as he protests: “Got a job at Common Grounds / I finally shaved off that beard / Sold my X-Box to Jimmy down the street / I even stopped smoking weed / I’m taking an online course / I’m learning Japanese.” He’s cleaned up his act, and life still sucks. What NOW?