Some bands wear the pop-punk label like an open wound, particularly those who would rather be taken seriously – i.e. sans the “pop” prefix. Yet Minneapolis’ Motion City Soundtrack seems to embrace this characterization. With the exception of a track or two, their third album, Even If It Kills Me, is the epitome of the pop-punk genre.

The production on this album is more polished than in the past, but in general, MCS picks up where it left off with heaps of songs about love and love lost. The band appears to be attempting an expansion of their usual themes, however, most notably in the politically toned “Hello Helicopter” and frontman Justin Pierre’s soul searching in the title track. In fact, the overall feel of the album, despite some still morose lyrics, is rather on the optimistic side – presumably thanks to Pierre’s success in kicking a 10-year alcohol/drug addiction and his newfound dedication to a healthy lifestyle.

Musically, Even If It Kills Me is what you’d expect from MCS by now: relatively simplistic guitar and bass riffs, competent percussion, and enough Moog to make you wonder every now and then if the band might be taking a crack at creating a new pop-punk-dance style of music. Ric Ocasek produced a portion of the album, and his influences are obvious on the Weezer-esque “It Had To Be You” and “Can’t Finish What You Started”, but otherwise the 3 ½ minute pop-punk songs start running together by the time the 13-track album has wrapped. The lone exception is “The Conversation”, a break-up ballad that consists solely of Pierre’s vocals and a piano.

Lyrically, it’s a hit and miss affair. The otherwise lovely aforementioned “The Conversation” suffers from some banality – “I had a pocket full of dreams/But I gave them all to you/Now I think I want them back/So can you tell me if I’m crazy or confused?”. “Antonia”, while at times clever and touching, completely breaks down shortly past the halfway point with these cringe-inducing lyrics – “She married me last June/She was the bride, I was the groom/I cried a lot and then we spooned/Without her in my life I would be doomed”. Egads. The entire album is not so lyrically bleak, however. MCS proves they can be quirky and charming with songs such as “It Had To Be You” – “Let’s get wrecked on pop-tarts and sex and see the Taj Mahal/Let’s save birds from Prince William Sound and skateboard through the mall/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”.

Even If It Kills Me
is nothing new in the realm of music, and although it suffers from repetition and a handful of crummy lyrics, there is enough here to warrant a few good listens. The catchy hooks and lyrics will have you tapping your foot and singing along whether you want to or not.

Motion City Soundtrack [official site] [myspace] [buy it]