Its been ten years since the release of pop punk veterans Motion City Soundtrack’s fourth studio album. One of the first pop punk releases of the decade, My Dinosaur Life is also one of the best.
After settling on their lineup and signing with independent label Epitaph, Motion City Soundtrack released their debut album, I Am The Movie in 2003. This was followed in 2005 by their breakthrough, Commit This To Memory, which propelled them to the next level. 2007 saw the release of their third album, Even If It Kills Me, and also a deal with the major label, Columbia. My Dinosaur Life would be their major label debut, and was set to take the band to new territory after years of steadily building a following.
The album was produced by blink-182 bassist Mark Hoppus. Hoppus had previously produced Commit This To Memory, the band’s most critically and commercially successful album, and he delivered once again. My Dinosaur Life is 40 minutes of pure pop punk perfection. It’s fast, it’s aggressive, and it’s their heaviest work to date. While still being very much pop punk, with catchy hooks and soaring choruses, there are several nods to the post-hardcore community, with relentless distorted guitars. There’s also a significant reduction in the use of keyboards and synths, a feature that had previously made Motion City Soundtrack instantly recognisable. The result this time was a much darker and grittier sound. Lead vocalist Justin Pierre sited Fugazi and Dinosaur Jr. as the unexpected influences.
There isn’t a single weak song on My Dinosaur Life, almost every song offers something different. Worker Bee is a textbook album opener, Her World Destroyed My Planet is everything great about Motion City Soundtrack in three and a half minutes, and A Lifeless Ordinary is one of the strongest songs the band has ever written. It feels unjust that this single didn’t soar to the heights it deserved.
Lyrically, My Dinosaur Life is classic Motion City Soundtrack. There are frequent pop-culture references, quips at everyday life, and self-deprecating remarks. Justin Pierre has an extraordinary talent for juxtaposing dark themes with upbeat music. Pierre continues themes from previous albums, such as existential dread and his battles with OCD and substance abuse. Yet despite this, it also feels like a new chapter for Pierre as a person, with lyrics dealing with growing older, new beginnings, and self-evaluation.
Despite the album being the band’s fastest and heaviest effort, there’s still room for a couple of softer, melodic songs. The love song, Stand Too Close, sees a rare appearance from an acoustic guitar and offers a small breather. Skin and Bones is one of the most powerful songs on the record. Despite being one of the softest sonically, it hits the hardest, leaving plenty to reflect on about our place in the world.
Looking back on My Dinosaur Life, one of the main talking points is that it was Motion City Soundtrack’s only major label release. There are countless debates regarding the pros and cons of signing with a major label regarding artistic integrity and creative freedom. The only notable issue Motion City Soundtrack appeared to face in this regard was Columbia’s request for no synths. The Moog synthesiser had been a key component of the band’s sound on all of their previous work, and this request from Columbia must have been difficult for the band’s dedicated synth player, Jesse Johnson. The band obliged though, and Johnson instead found himself playing subtle piano and keyboard parts. With a key component of the band seemingly missing, My Dinosaur Life isn’t as instantly recognisable as their other albums.
Despite this hurdle, the band received huge levels of promotion, including radio play for effectively the first time, and had their music featured in television shows. My Dinosaur Life received critical acclaim, and remains the band’s highest charting album, reaching 15 in the US. Although not performing as well commercially as Commit This To Memory, My Dinosaur Life still sold well for an alternative band, particularly at a time where illegal downloading was on the rise and virtually the whole industry was struggling with sales. This wasn’t good enough for Columbia however, and despite signing a multi-album deal, the band was dropped after just the one album.
It’s a huge shame Columbia dropped Motion City Soundtrack at a time they had been gaining such momentum. The band viewed My Dinosaur Life as a success, and rightly so. A longer relationship with a major label would only have pushed them to even bigger things. But such is the unforgiving nature of the music industry, and afterwards they would return to indie label, Epitaph. My Dinosaur Life represented the peak of Motion City Soundtrack’s success, as 2012’s (unsurprisingly) synth-heavy follow-up, Go, received a comparatively lukewarm reception from fans and critics. 2016’s Panic Stations was recorded live, and there were hints that the band was tiring of the album-making and touring routine. When Panic Stations failed to recapture the success of earlier releases, it wasn’t a huge surprise that the band announced an indefinite hiatus at the end of that year. Motion City Soundtrack had gone as far as it could go in its current state, and time away, if nothing else, was needed.
In 2019 the band announced a reunion tour. They’ve not made any promises to write new music, but time away can fix a lot of things and this could be the fresh start they need. My Dinosaur Life is a timeless record and set a bar they never quite managed to reach again, but it proves the potential is always there.
Article by Will Cooper