Mikal Cronin is a 29-year-old Californian musician and a serial collaborator. To date, he’s recorded and performed with garage rock wunderkind Ty Segall and contributed to albums, singles and EPs by four other bands. He’s also released solo albums of which MCIII is, naturally enough, the third.
These three records have revealed that Cronin is just as good at writing tuneful powerpop songs as he is at thrashing away at a guitar. At its best – as on MCII’s standout Shout It Out – Cronin’s solo work exhibits a joyous abandon, suggesting that its maker is desperate to cram as many hooks, riffs and solos into a single song as humanly possible.
MCIII is Mikal Cronin’s biggest- and brightest-sounding album yet. Complementing Cronin the multi-instrumentalist (he plays guitar, bass, drums, keyboards and saxophone) are a string quartet and two horn players. They contribute lush string and woodwind embellishments to a number of songs and, for the most part, they feel like a good match for Cronin’s classicist pop-rock melodies. Only on opener Turn Around does the string section feel like it’s doing the heavy lifting in the absence of a decent topline melody: it brings back grim memories of the decadent days of Britpop, when entire orchestras were hired to paper over the songwriting cracks.
In a recent interview to support MCIII’s release, Cronin cited Kate Bush’s Hounds Of Love as an influence on the album’s structure: “The A-side of that album is just self-contained hits and the B-side is this crazy, dark, weird concept record … I straight up stole that idea.” Cronin had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek when he made those comments but, even so, it implies a degree of ambition that simply isn’t borne out by MCIII’s back half. The album’s closing six tracks are indeed supposed to constitute a song suite, but it’s not a continuous one and, if one failed to notice the Roman numerals that prefix each track’s name, it’s likely the listener would be oblivious to the overarching concept.
The only commonality of MCIII’s ‘B-side’ is a narrative arc that begins with its narrator in a state of despondency ((i) Alone) and closes with a rebirth (“Get off of your back … This is not your fate” – (vi) Circle). There’s also a heightened sense of drama: Alone features the album’s most opulent string arrangement, Gold includes an appearance by a Greek stringed instrument called a tzouras, while Ready is punky thrash that sounds like Ty Segall. But, really, Tommy by The Who this is not.
But no matter: MCIII might fail to live up to its billing as concept album, but it absolutely doesn’t fail to provide a steady stream of big-hearted guitar-pop songs.