Marianas Trench - Masterpiece Theatre Release Date: September 28, 2010
Record Label: 604 Records
Calling your own work a masterpiece certainly comes with a set of risks. Whether you're talking about a painting, a piece of writing, or a record, when you tell people that it's your masterpiece, it sets the bar at a somewhat insurmountable level.
Marianas Trench have nothing to worry about.
The Canadian four-piece pop rock group are releasing Masterpiece Theatre, their second full length release, in the U.S. on September 28. On the same day, they'll be releasing their first full length, Fix Me. To put it simply, Americans are a little bit behind on the Marianas Trench bandwagon. Fix Me was released in 2006 in Canada on 604 Records, and Masterpiece Theatre has been out since February 2009 on the same label, with the group receiving plenty of praise and top radio play in Canada ever since.
It isn't hard to figure out why the group are so adored north of the border; Masterpiece Theatre lives up to its name in every way imaginable. Its 12 songs, spread across its 44 minute run time, are nothing short of pure pop rock genius. In a year where the genre has seen plenty of bands breaking the mold of a classification that had grown somewhat stale, Marianas Trench stand head and shoulders above their peers. Frontman and lead vocalist Josh Ramsay has a set of pipes that are truly one of a kind, and the instrumentation provided by Matt Webb (lead guitar), Mike Ayley (bass), and Ian Casselman (drums) complements his voice perfectly.
Masterpiece Theatre is structured around three songs, entitled "Masterpiece Theatre I, II, and III", which are strewn about the album. "Masterpiece Theatre I" starts the record, showing every aspect of Marianas Trench's sound. Starting off with phenomenally harmonized group vocals, the track hits all sorts of different ranges throughout its five minutes. The group show that they can rock out, that they can be very poppy, and that they can write an undeniably catchy hook in the bridge. After hearing the first track of the record, I was immediately hooked and quite frankly had difficulty moving on to the rest of the album. I wasn't disappointed when I did, though.
"All to Myself", "Cross My Heart", "Beside You", and "Acadia" are an almost unrealistic sequence of songs. Ranging from Ramsay's pitch-perfect vocals in the chorus of "All to Myself" to the ethnic-sounding "oos" and "ahs" on "Beside You", Marianas Trench surprise listeners in every song with an unexpected twist to a sound that has been done many times. Take "Cross My Heart" as an example. Perhaps the most structurally sound song on Masterpiece Theatre, and a song that is undoubtedly tailor-made for top 40 radio play, there are few flaws even from the standpoint of the harshest critic. While the song seems simple on the surface, the details of the track make it a true standout and are examples of what makes Marianas Trench far from a typical pop rock band. Ramsay's wordplay in the verses is wonderful alongside another explosive chorus, and the entire track is executed with a swagger and chemistry that it irresistible. "Acadia" follows suit, with a crescendo that never fails to incite goosebumps.
We then hit "Masterpiece Theatre II", which serves as a continuation of the opener. After hearing the four songs that separate these two, it's refreshing to be offered a sense of structure. The three "Masterpiece Theatre" songs add much more to the record than another three pop rock hits would have. Following is "Sing Sing", in my opinion the catchiest song on the album. The chorus of "It's no wonder I'm not eating / No wonder I'm not sleeping / You say sing, sing to me / Sing me something I need / Sing new, sing good / God I wish that I could" all but sticks directly to your gums with tastiness. At the same time, it isn't too sugary, as Ramsay finds a good medium between his hook and his group's aggressive, uptempo style.
Slow piano ballad "Good To You" is the only track on the record I have any remote problem with, but it fits in fairly well with the flow of the album. The track features Kate Voegele performing dual vocals with Ramsay, and while her voice is smooth, it doesn't sit well on some repeat listens. While it's not the first track I skip ahead to, I still don't have the heart to skip it when I'm listening to the entire album, which listeners will find themselves doing many times. Marianas Trench get things back on track with the lethal one-two combo of "Celebrity Status" and "Perfect". The former rivals "Sing Sing" in terms of catchiness and all but dares you to dance no matter where you are. The latter, meanwhile, is a rhythmic number which again is highlighted by Ramsay's vocals.
"Lover Dearest" is another ballad-ish track, following a little in the footsteps of "Good To You". Marianas Trench flex their instrumental muscles on this track, carrying Ramsay's voice at times, as he has an extremely large number of high notes on the song. The instrumentation, while perhaps overshadowed by the vocals on Masterpiece Theatre, is definitely not something to be scoffed at as each member earn their own way. Closer "Masterpiece Theatre III" is another continuation of its two sister songs, but also brings something new to the table....sort of. The track takes samples from all of the other 11 songs on Masterpiece Theatre, but they are so impeccably constructed that it sounds like its own song. It's reasonably the only suitable ending to this record.
I've been waiting to write a review for a record like this since I became a staff member here. A record that I could wholeheartedly and undoubtedly stand behind and recommend to absolutely anybody who has ever even liked music before. While I've reviewed a couple of phenomenal records this year by immensely talented bands (The Narrative and A Great Big Pile Of Leaves come to mind first), I'm about to drop more praise on Masterpiece Theatre in this conclusion than either of those releases.
Masterpiece Theatre is my pop rock record of the year, it's my feel-good record of the year, it's my record of the year for walking around campus and it's my record of the year for showing to your friends because you want to make them happy. It's my Canadian record of the year, it's my football season record of the year, and it's my record of the year for making you think about that girl that you have a crush on. Whatever, I can keep making up superlatives for several paragraphs, but I'm already over 1000 words and surely you all have something else to do today. Masterpiece Theatre is a game-changer. It will undoubtedly go down as this band's opus despite being only their second release. It is, in every sense of the word, their masterpiece.
No need for thanks. You truly made this sound amazing and you seem to have clearly established a relationship with this record so I'm checking this out based on your word.
Awesome. I'm sure you'll enjoy it if you like anything even close to pop rock....it's just an extremely enjoyable and well executed record. Between this and The Narrative, I'm really starting to like pop rock again.
Damn, a 94%? Boy, Tommy - dishing out the first reviews I'm scratching my head over by you! I really do like this album. Production is top-notch, hooks are tighter than Ann Coulter's asshole, and it all sounds awesome... just don't see what it's done to earn such high marks.
That being said... I think it's a very above-average pop-rock album and that if people are going to go out of their way to insist pop music lacks energy or is no longer creative, they haven't listened to this record. Between them, House of Heroes, MUTEMATH, Relient K and The Graduate... intelligent pop-rock with an explosive amount of energy is still very much alive and well.
I hate to be that guy again, but the RIYL really isn't helpful. It's a well-written, comprehensive review and it's obvious from your high mark and positive words that you think it's top-notch pop-rock, but the RIYL needs rejigging.
I completely agree with this review. Thank goodness that these guys got a news post here, otherwise I might not have ever heard about them....I cannot stop listening to All to Myself/Sing Sing/Acadia....as well as the rest of the album.