Let's say you have a band. The main lyrical appeal of the band is your acerbic stories of bad choices, your sad/funny tales of girls and substances you like more than you should.
Now let's say you get sober and fall in love for real. Sure, you're happy, but what's a songwriter to do?
Even If It Kills Me kicks off with Last Night I Fell In Love Without You, and it seems that all is still right (wrong) with Justin Pierre's world: "I waved goodbye to that heart of mine beating solo on your lawn." It's the sort of I-don't-care-but-I-do broken heart song that the band has made its trade.
But the second track quickly reveals a new dimension, that things are not the same as they ever were. This Is For Real is not only about cleaning up your act, but also about the person who inspired you to do it. "You smoked the demons/ Gave me back my feelings / Now I am good to go." It's the most unabashed thing they've ever done, at least until you get to Antiona. Were I a betting man, I'd say the songs are probably about the same person. Pierre describes the titular woman in amusing detail, telling us of her love for Captain Crunch, snowmobiles, stray cats and Ben Folds Five. As the song ends, we learn that Antonia is pregnant, and Pierre confesses that he hopes the baby "will be just like her mother." Were this a James Blunt song, the masses would collectively reach for vomit bags, but listeners who know MCS well should be touched.
Antonia's love of Ben Folds must have rubbed off. The album's most musically surprising song, The Conversation, is a voice and piano ballad that could have appeared on Rockin' The Suburbs or Songs For Silverman. Even though it's essentially a sad goodbye letter, he song still comes off as sweet, mostly because of the final line: "Don't ever change / the way you are / I've never loved anyone more."
If you are getting worried that the album overdoses on sugary sentiment, don't fret. There are plenty of other pleasures to be had. It Had To Be You is the requisite I-never-realized-you-were-the-one-for-me song, but the nonsensical lyrical details make it something original. Example: "Let's fight crime with mangoes and limes and join the PGA / Let's win big with every spin / But hurry / I can't wait." Point Of Extinction and Broken Heart are perseverance songs, and you can feel the bluster especially on the latter when Pierre vows to "destroy this useless heart" and "fuck it up so it'll never beat again." Finally, Last Night is an oddly compelling analogue to The Strokes song of the same name, with its boppy rhythm.
The album's songs do move briefly away from matters of the heart. Calling All Cops is a general condemnation of some of the more corrupt influences in our society ("Sever all ties to satellites that broadcast worthless words / You're extrapolating nonsense / And it really hurts"), but it's hard not to see it in the light of the recent I-35W bridge collapse, especially when it speaks of "saving victims from the wreckage" and ends with the words "and everything just falls apart." Hello Helicopter is a kin to that song, but instead the target appears to be the continuing war in Iraq. "In several years no one will care / They'll all be rich and dead / So let some one else devise a cure for it."
Musically, the album is poppy and hook-filled, exactly like the first two MCS albums. It leads one to believe that, as good as the end results sound, that all-star producers Ric Ocasek (formerly of The Cars) and Adam Schlesinger (of Fountains Of Wayne) were almost superfluous. That's a compliment all around. A good producer, when he or she is working with a truly talented band, should have an invisible hand.
So, did maturity kill the band we loved? Even Justin Pierre seems worried about that. On Where I Belong, he sings, "This is where I run out of words to describe how I'm so damn hurt" and "I can't stand the thought of losing everything I ever thought that I knew." But on the album closer and title track, he knows he (and his band) will survive. "For the first time in a long time," he tells us, "I can say that I want to get better and overcome each moment in my own way."
If Even If It Kills Me is any indication, he's on the right track.
Fave Song: Broken Heart