As a fervent supporter of hackneyed, overused expressions, I believe it best to start this review of Masked Intruder‘s new full-length record M.I. by saying “What is old is new again.” Now, before fans of Masked Intruder string me up, I don’t say this to mean Masked Intruder are unoriginal; the group puts a fun twist on sing-along, classic Fat Wreck pop punk and their gimmick, in which all members pretend to be criminals who wear brightly colored ski masks and matching converse sneakers and go by the pseudonyms Intruder Orange, Intruder Blue, Intruder Green, and Intruder Red, respectively, is just so goddamn cute that even old, jaded fucks like me feel compelled to sing and clap along. Before getting down to the music found on M.I. in detail let’s look at the familiar aspects of Masked Intruder’s aesthetic and musical style, as this added context lends weight to what the group gets right on this new album.
The concept of a band whose members remain anonymous while playing masked /costumed characters on stage and in public appearances is not a new thing. Oderus Urungus (R.I.P) and his merry band of interplanetary barbarians in GWAR have been covering their rabid fanbase in alien goo since 1984. The late 90s & early aughts saw an explosion of angsty, costumed meathead-staffed bands riding the baggy overall coat tails of the highly successful Slipknot. More recently, Swedish hard rock / heavy metal / religious movement Ghost have been converting audiences around the planet. So sure, it’s not a new idea, but the appeal is clear; not only does it separate the art from the artist, but creates a full on fantastical, escapist experience for the audience. Also, masks are cool! The major difference in Masked Intruder’s version of this gimmick is primarily the tone; all of the bands I mentioned previously use their disguises to amplify a sense of menace or mystic horror, whereas Masked Intruder’s take on the ghosts from Pac Man is meant to push their sugary sweet pop punk vibe into the “OMG TOTES ADORBS!” red line (did I just write that?).
Masked Intruder are not attempting to sail the good ship pop punk into uncharted waters on their second full-length; fun, catchy, sing-along, high-sucrose-content pop punk reminiscent of The Dickies, The Ataris, and loads of stuff on Life In The Fat Lane is the order of the day. You’ve heard this stuff before, but that’s completely fine. The important questions when evaluating pop punk are as follows: 1.) Is the music performed well? 2.) Do the artists seem sincere? and 3) After only listening to the album 2 or 3 times, do you feel compelled to loudly sing along while driving around in your car with the windows rolled up?
Based on these criteria, M.I. is indeed a success.
First cut “I Fought The Law” is a bouncy, palm-muted jaunt that introduces the witty lyrical component of Masked Intruder’s shtick; pop punk love songs written by totally nice guys who just happen to be convicted felons. The line “Another Saturday night, the fucking pigs are trying to ruin my good time” reads like something that should be screaming through the tortured vocal chords of Stza Crack, but here is delivered completely, hilariously clean. “Crime Spree” continues the theme with the line “Two lovers against the law, living on a prayer we don’t get caught.” It’s as if Masked Intruder have created a G-rated version of Natural Born Killers.
While it doesn’t break new ground, the music on M.I. is catchy and well written. The production is warm and satisfying allowing the listener to hear all of the layers and nuances, such as the little xylophone accents throughout many of the tracks, that make M.I. memorable. These nuances, as well as interesting songwriting choices such as the a Capella track “It’s Like We’re Already In Love,” keep the record fresh from start to finish. The drums are afforded a particular heft that keeps the whole thing moving and the vocal harmonies, a pop punk necessity, are fully fleshed out without sounding over-produced.
Masked Intruder’s M.I. is a super fun collection of sing-along summer jams with just the right dash of innovation to keep fingers on the play button. I would, however, love to hear these guys go a tad outside the box and inject a bit more weirdness on future releases, maybe along the lines of the excellent and sadly defunct The Dean Malenkos, but considering that I’ve already caught myself humming a few of these songs, I think Masked Intruder are definitely on the right track.
Written by Jesse Gainer