In some respects, pop-punk and the Final Fantasy franchise are the same. They’ve both been taken over by high-energy youngsters who don’t seem to be able to appreciate the importance of classic tropes: dynamism does not equal quality. The consequence of what might be perceived as a lack of quality in newer output is that you can’t help but judge everything in the context of an idealised mid-00s golden age.
Now, while it’s important that we allow bands to change, develop and mature – we all know that Blink are too old to be singing tracks from Enema of the State, and there’s a reason Enter Shikari have phased most of Take to the Skies out of their set – there’s no reason why solid, convincing pop-punk can’t continue to exist. Prior to listening to this album, there were worries that it would be unrelatable, either that their old fans are now too grown up, or MCS would be. These concerns were laid to rest within 30 seconds. It’s a modern pop-punk masterpiece.
First track ‘Anything At All’ is a good song. It’s not overtly anything in content – not an angsty teen anthem or the death rattle of a band trying to keep its audience while abandoning its style. It does have Motion City Soundtrack character in droves and could sit happily on 2005’s Commit This To Memory without anyone batting an eyelid.
The album continues with the slower ‘TKO’, where frontman Justin Pierre’s voice is slightly happier in lower ranges than it used to be, but the poppy tonality is there and MCS’s trademark keyboard noise remains prominent. ‘I Can Feel You’ bangs. Hard. All four minutes and twenty-two seconds were spent involuntarily bobbing my head. There’s also a certain maturity to parts of it that elevate it beyond the realms of disposable listening.
What shines through more and more as the album progresses is that, rather than try and stay true to an aesthetic, MCS have simply continued to write decent, honest music. You can tell that this isn’t an album thrown together to get a quick payday. It’s been carefully considered, and that consideration has paid off. It’s the first new pop-punk album in years that’s satisfied my high expectations.
Hysterical fan-boy excitement aside, there are low points; ‘Lose Control’ feels clunky and abrupt after the delightful lightness of ‘I Can Feel You’. It’s a bit simple, and not in a particularly good way. However, the mood is immediately lifted again with ‘Heavy Boots’, which has more of that weird happy-sad reminiscent quality that so defined good ‘00s pop-punk, the lyric, “Standing at the ocean, waiting for the world to end” stands out as a particular highlight. What a tune.
‘It’s A Pleasure To’ tackles the same teeny angst that Motion City Soundtrack might have been helping to propagate ten years ago. Although now, it’s from the perspective of someone ten years older. It offers advice and an outstretched hand, which sounds really fucking cheesy. Maybe it is, but I love it and they’ve pulled it off beautifully.
The second half of this album feels ever so slightly heavier, and doesn’t have quite the same organic quality that was present in early tracks ‘Anything At All’ and ‘I Can Feel You’. That being said, ‘Gravity’ is not only a master class in cadence, but another big hitter with one of the album’s catchiest choruses.
Panic Stations ends with what every good pop-punk album needs: a slow, sad song. ‘Days Will Run Away’ is the perfect way to close what has been a very exciting listening experience. It’s a properly sad song and naysayers might shout “Emoooo”, but feeling down is universal, isn’t it? Anyway, it picks up halfway through, so pipe down.
Panic Stations is available to buy now. Keep your eyes open for tour dates at motioncitysoundtrack.com