Album Review: Mikal Cronin – MCIII
Following Mikal Cronin’s breakthrough pop-powerhouse, MCII, comes MCIII, an album which he has described as “bigger” and, in both sound and ambition, he’s right. Featuring more horn arrangements and a fuller sound, as well as a second suite of songs described as a “mini concept album”, MCIII seems intent on moving forward. However, the execution varies in its success of capitalising on these ideas.
What MCIII does well is a mixture of what worked on both of his previous albums (including his much fuzzier and louder debut, Mikal Cronin), namely, a knack for strong and catchy songwriting with a tactical ear for a distortion pedal. The moments where MCIII works best is when the hook is strong and Cronin’s pop sensibilities are in full control; songs like “Feel Like” and “iii) Control” are examples of Cronin’s almost effortless ability to craft a winning pop song. Lead single “Turn Around” falls just short of the mark, and is an example of where the ‘bigger’ sound falls flat. Beginning with a full round of distorted guitars and strings, it lacks the hook of the build-up and sparing use of the distortion pedal that shows restraint. While the mixing gives each instrument room, it still feels crowded.
The last six songs on the album are also ordered by separate numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, etc) and are meant expound on the titular concept. However, this concept is never taken beyond being some really bad time in Cronin’s past; his usually emotionally strong lyrics feel slightly reductive, as they sound disappointingly similar to any other song he’s recorded. Whereas MCII had some moments of truly understandable anxiety and confusion, MCIII lacks the gravitas and the immediate reaction of hearing a track like “Weight” or “Shout It Out” for the first time. Despite this, Cronin’s vocals remain as strong as ever, and while his lyrics don’t necessarily reveal anything new this time around, they still sound reliably great within the context of each song.
What all this means is that MCIII is a distinctly uneven album. While the first half has its brighter moments, and is by no means bad, it gives way to a second half that is stronger in every sense: louder, catchier and ultimately more dynamic in its structure. While the elusive concept that fuels this suite of songs is left mostly in the dark, the songs still support themselves. Perhaps the most revealing trait of MCIII is that it feels like it is trying to capitalise on the success of its predecessor; despite MCII being a true achievement, its coming-of-age themes and rarely solid track-list of ‘all-killer, no filler’ wasn’t so much a result of anything beyond its stellar construction. MCIII’s attempts to re-assume these burdens and couple it with a similar execution are what makes the flatter tracks feel even more so, especially to anybody who has heard MCII. However, MCIII remains a solid album – Mikal Cronin can’t make a truly bad song, but given the runaway success of MCII, this release falls just short of greatness, and our expectations. However, on its own terms, it’s still a solid album, and definitely worth picking up.
Review by Adrian Pedić.