opinion by ZACH BERNSTEIN
It’s rare these days to hear a new rock album that a) arrives free of irony, cynicism, or gimmickry and b) you know, rocks. The first example that comes to mind is Japandroids’ 2012 firecracker Celebration Rock. Mikal Cronin’s third solo effort MCIII is another such record. It’s a straightforward, no-nonsense collection rooted in various strains of rock history. There are quiet, epic 70s acoustic intros, such as those that adorn “I’ve Been Loved” and “Control”. Scuzzed and fuzzed 90s indie guitar lines underlie “Say” and “Feel Like”. Cronin’s voice itself is an amalgam of A.C. Newman, James Mercer, and early Wayne Coyne. In all honesty, though, Mikal Cronin should only be compared to himself. He's a great talent, educated in songwriting, with an ear for melody and and a knack for emotional resonance. MCIII is his grandest and warmest record yet.
Cronin has a BA in music. So his remarkable gift for weaving strong hooks with gorgeous instrumentation shouldn't be surprising. Opener “Turn Around” explodes out of the gate. It's a Celtic-punk crash of bouncing guitar, thunderous drum, smashing piano, and furious strings. A cacophony, but an inherently tuneful one too. Obvious single “Made My Mind Up” and “Feel Like” are deeply enjoyable slices of guitar-fueled power pop. Even when he softens his tone, Cronin is capable of beautiful and serene moments. Before it erupts into a feedback-laden storm, “i) Alone” sports a lilting French horn line. Closer “vi) Circle” builds its bridge atop a shimmering barroom piano interlude. Cronin’s work is far from formulaic. MCIII surprises with its creative digressions and unexpected stylistic touches. See, for example, the "Kashmir"-biting breakdown on “ii) Gold”. Or the cello-assisted, folky harmonies on “I’ve Been Loved”.
Cronin exudes a slacker vibe, presenting a front of drug-addled dissatisfaction and ennui. He sings about pills, laziness, and loneliness. Don’t let him fool you, though, as the album’s arc betrays much greater intentions. The entire second half is one interconnected song suite – Cronin’s Abbey Road, as it were. Six tracks, which sport titles as primal and basic as “Alone” and “Control”, offer a narrative arc. They sketch Cronin’s journey through young adult maturity. They grow from feelings of isolation and helplessness to sensations of action and joy. As closer “iv) Circle” rollicks along on its jovial guitar strumming, Cronin repeats “please be all around me.” It's a plea for mutual love and reliance. Just try not to smile. MCIII is, in the end, the perfect sunny day album. Let’s hope that Cronin only continues to grow in his songcraft and ambition – it looks (and sounds) good on him. B