He’s just doing this so he can eventually put out a record called MC5, isn’t he? Three albums in, and Mikal Cronin is still naming ‘em after himself. There’s nothing wrong with that—it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s a narcissist, and even if he is, well, he’s basically a rock star, so it’s expected. The lack of a real album title actually forces fools like me to do our jobs a bit more thoroughly and not use some words slapped on the cover as a crutch, like some kind of key to the coded messages within the music, or whatever. These are a bunch of songs that Mikal Cronin wrote, the third bunch, and he plays on ‘em all, so here it is, again, and it’s called MCIII.
Mikal Cronin knows how to write a pop song. Not like a Max Martin pop song, but a pop song that could’ve existed at almost any point in the last 50 or so years of rock history. Parents and children alike can unite in appreciation for how this guy writes a guitar song. The recording techniques change, but something like “Made My Mind Up” is practically timeless, with its overdriven opening guitar line crashing into Cronin’s sweet vocals, and a simple piano part and bassline making up the song’s spine. The mixing on MCIII is superb, deep but supple; it’s no wall of sound—there’s just enough space between every instrument to tell what’s doing what—but the layering of acoustic and electric guitars, the occasional pianos and strings and horns, and the beautiful vocal harmonies all coalesce into a rich, warm lather.
The second half of the record appears to be a multi-part suite—songs are prefixed like i) and ii)—but they don’t seem any more inextricably linked together than on the first side. It’s less the second half of Abbey Road or the Olivia Tremor Control’s “Green Typewriters” and more just a half-album of somewhat thematically linked rock songs. It’s the record’s better half, simultaneously heavier and catchier than the first side. It sounds like a vital lost classic from the early 1970s, one of those records that was made before either “classic rock” or “punk” were labeled as such, and that has one foot in both worlds. From the caterwauling guitars and insistent stomp of “ii) Gold,” to the contrast between the rise of the guitar riff and fall of the vocal melody on the chorus to “iv) Ready,” to the valedictory bounce of “vi) Circle,” the back half of MCIII is a pop-rock triumph.
There are a lot of great bands today that make writing a good, classic pop or rock song seem easy—people like Ty Segall, Sheer Mag, Tony Molina and dozens of others. With MCIII Mikal Cronin has reasserted his status at the top of that pyramid. It’s not a few hits padded out with rote genre exercises—it’s thematically consistent and maintains a high level of craftsmanship throughout. Dads and grads can both dig it.