14 years after their last album, influential pop-punkers The Movielife return with their 4th full length. After calling it quits after the release of the excellent "40 Hour Train Back To Penn" the band's stock has continued to rise whilst many of their peers (Saves the Day, Alkaline Trio, New Found Glory to name a few), have seen their returns diminish and increasingly sketchy outputs tarnish their once great reputations. Having a small and consistently excellent back catalogue has enabled the band to cement their status as legends; whilst their releases (with the exception of "It's Go Time" to be fair - which sounds far too light weight and underproduced by comparison), have stood the test of time well. There is obviously a lot riding on this release to not only manage expectations of those old fans, but also to draw new listeners in - moving them from a nostalgia act to one that's relevant for a newer audience, who may not be as aware of their legacy or importance to the pop-punk scene. So how does 2017 Movielife compare to that of yesteryear?
... The answer is surprisingly well. Sure it's not as bratty and pop-hardcore in the vein of "This Time Next Year", nor is it as defiant and damaged as "40 Hour Train Back To Penn", but shows a maturity and self-awareness that can only come with age and with time away from each other - notably driving forces, vocalist Vinnie Caruana and guitarist Brandon Reilly. What they have crafted here is a natural progression built on their separate growths and careers, but retaining that original Movielife magic.
The obvious difference lies in the vocals. I've always loved the rapid, shouty rasp of Vinnie Caruana, and here it's been toned down slightly. The most obviously traditional Movielife song with this regards is opener "Ski Mask", which catapults the album to a breakneck speed immediately; with this regard it's very reminiscent of "I Hope You Die Soon"; albeit of a slightly longer run time (clocking over 1:30)! It's clearly a nod to the old times and an explosive start to the album, followed by a song that will be seen as an anthem over coming years "Mercy Is Asleep At The Wheel"; its heavy opening and verses are very post-hardcore in style before it shifts into a huge chorus. Again reminding the listener of their hardcore roots; personally I see this as a joining of their pop-punk drive-thru era sound combined with the more hardcore stylings of their Revelation releases and it's probably the most realistic interpretation of who The Movielife actually are.
I always found them out of place as a Drive-Thru band, and despite my love for "40 Hour Train..." and "Gambling Problem" I always get the impression that maybe there was some outside influence to push the more pop elements of the songs at the expense of their hardcore leanings; where as "Cities in Search of a Heart" seems much more in keeping with earlier releases. Take "Sister Saint Monica" for example which is much more driven by hardcore beats and subtle beat downs, whilst still retaining their melodic elements; these more hardcore leanings seem to be more noticeable this time around.
The obvious outlier on the album is "Pour Two Glasses", it's acoustic, orchestral approach drawing obvious parallels with "Sailor Tattoos". It's a nice interlude in the middle of the album, and instead of breaking the flow as can often happen with such songs, acts as a good change of pace and helps balance the first half of the album.
Lyrically, "Cities In Search Of A Heart", draws on many of the themes the Movielife are known for, in particular the need to find a place to belong or being away from home. Given the band's history and the infamous van accident that placed so much stress on the members relationships prior to their initial split, it's no surprise some nods throughout the album evoke an element of closure to that sad episode - particularly "Mercy".
It should also be noted that Vinnie has also always had a self-awareness of how one person's actions can impact on those around them and whereas the rose tinted nostalgia that filled songs like "Hey" have been replaced by an acknowledgement of his own failings in "Ghosts In The Photograph". It's a really honest juxtaposition that is evident across this new album; it suggests a further realisation on how you can damage others through your actions. It's an album littered with guilt and remorse but also with The Movielife you get a commitment to put things right and also to take responsibility for your actions.
Closing song "Hearts" is a genuine slow-burner, driven by Vinnie's vocal delivery and shows a vulnerable humanity and a feeling of space and isolation. If the album starts with the most Movielife song it ends far removed from their past as they can go. That's not a bad thing again reinforcing their growth as musicians and people over the intervening 14 years. In between there are other highlights, particularly "Laugh Ourselves To Death" with its building and soaring chorus and the full-on "You're The Cure".
If I was to list the bands that have been important to me over the years, The Movielife would definitely feature. Their lyrics have always been especially relatable; I've known some "Handgrenades"; I can fully comprehend "10 Seconds Too Late"; and "Kelly's Song" could easily refer to my relationships. This album will be no different. If I compared their early output to Saves The Day, New Found Glory and Alkaline Trio when trying to manage expectations for this latest release I'd argue it's reminded me more of later Make Do and Mend or even Bayside; it's mature, grown-up and reflective. Sure, overall it's slower and more measured, but whilst their previous efforts helped define my early twenties this is exactly what I want from Vinnie and the boys in my mid thirties.
Order Cities In Search Of A Heart here.
Like The Movielife here: https://www.facebook.com/themovielifeofficial/
This review was written by Richard Mair.