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Has Pop Punk Grown Up?

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Has Pop Punk Grown Up?

This fall has brought a flair of new releases from Pop Punk princes like Green Day, Sum 41, Good Charlotte and Simple Plan. Bringing politics, social issues and heavy themes like child abuse into their lyrics it is right to wonder if the genre has grown up? Certainly these examples show Pop Punk’s ability to move beyond songs about high school and surfing. The most pretentious example being Green Day with American Idiot, a concept album centering on a suburban revolution. Heaviness aside, these bands still know how to spin a catchy hook, and would be at home on the soundtrack for any episode of Laguna Beach.

In addition to their lyrical growth, these bands are also moving in new musical directions. Influences from Rock and Heavy Metal are making them stronger musicians and more experimental songwriters. The result leads to another question, what is Punk in 2004 anyway? Is it anyone with spiky hair, staccato style singing or a pseudo-Brit accent? Do you need to be against something to be Punk?

These recent releases show that the divide between Modern Rock and Pop Punk is very small.

Good Charlotte – “The Chronicles of Life and Death”
Rating: 2 and 1/2 Stars

The TRL Pop Punk twins Joel and Benji Madden are more ambitious than your average 22-year olds. In addition to fronting a clothing line and beelining it for Hollywood stardom they release an album of heavy themes with amazingly catchy vibes. It is lightness from the dark. Smiles that come from childhood trauma and doubts that the twins have endured in their short lives. Musically The Chronicles owes more to 80s anthem Rock than to Punk. It is more REO Speedwagon than Sex Pistols. This is catchy hook-filled Rock sung with passion.

On the downside, the album drags on for too long and the later songs get lost in the 60 minutes of music. The hooks on those songs could have been spared for another album or even better, as a donation to hook-starved artists. Metallica on “St. Anger” for starters.

Sum 41 – “Chuck”
Rating: 3 Stars

“Chuck” is a solid, strong name: Chuck Roast, Chuck Wagon, rhymes with “buck” and something else that starts with an “f.” It is also the title of the Rock and Metal fueled new album from Sum 41. Despite their Blink 182-ish name and hair styles, Sum 41 has always paid heed to the Metal Gods. Starting on their first breakout hit, “Fat Lip,” with a name drop to Iron Maiden, then onto 2002’s “Does This Look Infected” with dual-guitar harmonies and fingertapping solos and now with Chuck, a tribute to Metallica’s “One” and “Battery” on the track “88.” Just how old where the formerly bratty Sum 41 back in 1988? Six? It does not matter because they may influence kids to look back and discover older music.

Sum 41 still has one foot in the Punk ballad camp (“Slipping Away,” “Pieces”) which counterbalance the toughness of the Metal Tribute songs. The snottiness and brat appeal of early Sum 41 is also intact throughout parts of “Chuck,” but so is a more mature, artistic side. The album as a whole is likable, versatile and crunchy. For the curious, “Chuck” was named for a UN worker, Chuck Pelletier, who helped Sum 41 flee violence in the African Congo while there to shoot a film. That’s so Punk Rock!

Green Day – “American Idiot”
Rating: 2 and 1/2 Stars

With “American Idiot,” Green Day are trying so hard to be profound. Releasing an political concept album prior to the all-important 2004 election seems like a slam dunk for respectability and popularity in this age of Michael Moore. With the high level of pretentiousness and self-importance found on “American Idiot” they may very well sweep the Grammy’s next year. The Bush victory adds to the upcoming glory days for protest Punk, of which Green Day may become viewed as pioneers. The music on “American Idiot” is very strong and far more advanced than anything previous by Green Day. That does not make this the epic they wish it to be. There are too many self-indulgences such as not one, but two songs that approach ten minutes in length. Green Day should quit trying to be The Clash and just rock out.

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About Chip Ross

  • good charlotte sucks

  • stefan

    i no greenday and sum 41 have ritten songs about how politics are fucked up, but i hate good charlotte, they r not puck, even if they do rite songs about real issues witch i dont even no if they do. the “supposed” punk band that pisses me off the most is simple plan, they should talk about real issues and not how hard it is bein a kid that’s confused. i mean, god, grow up. boo hoo, no one understands me. no1 cares. if they wanna keep a career, they should start talkin about sumthin else like greenday and sum 41. they are true punk bands.

  • Whatsername

    I’m getting really sick of hearing moronic people like you, Chip Ross, talking about Green Day like you know them. You really need to F.O.D. Oh? What’s that? You don’t know what that means?? Oh, that’s because you haven’t listened to all of Green Day’s CD’s before. You can not judge a band on one CD they make without knowing any of their other CDs, who they are as people, or anything about where they came from or their history. You are so lame, and you’re probably not even getting paid anything for writing your dumb little comment blogs about the most popular thing to diss in society today, what is punk and what is not. Do you even know what it means to be a punk? Look it up in the dictionary, I’m sure you will be amazed.
    When Green Day wrote “American Idiot” they were not looking to preach to youngsters or anybody for that matter about politics or what to believe. The CD is based in the American culture today, in a time when there JUST happens to be a war. They are not singing crap about stopping a war, they are doing it in a creative way, they are expressing their opinions through a story line, what all great authors and musicians have done throughout history… (Examples: Mark Twain wrote “Huckleberry Finn” about the hypocrisy of American culture at the turn of the Century and represented his opinions through the actions and words of the characters he created. Bob Dylan wrote amazing poem-like lyrics using metaphors and similes about war and American culture without really ever saying the word war)… Green Day made an opera, a CD, an artistic expression, it was complete with a story line, characters and raw emotion. I can’t believe that you would give Sum41 a higher album rating to a band that was formed, indirectly, out of Green Day existing. American Idiot is an amazing album, the best ever in my mind, and if you can’t realize that then you need to get your ears cleaned out, bubby, or you need to open your eyes and realize what is good music and what is not.

    *oh what a punch in the face*

  • War time means good times for political / protest music. Even Eminem’s gotten into the act with “Mosh.”

    That being said, several of the bands mentioned here are some of the strongest rock bands on the scene today, youngsters with musical chops getting better at each go. I had kind of blithely written off Good Charlotte a few years back as yet another radio-ready bore-fest rock band, but was really surprised at how good their recent stuff was. Green Day just keeps getting better and better, and I find American Idiot to be a wonderful listen from back to front. Finally, Sum 41 are unusually talented kids — I really think that if they can hold it together, they’ll be a musical force for years.

  • HW Saxton

    “Punk Rock” has ALWAYS been politically
    motivated.The DK’s,Clash,D.O.A,Avengers,
    The Dils,Sex Pistols,Bad Brains,Scream,
    Sham 69,Crass,etc(to name a few)were all
    bands that brought politics into their

    I guess this is just a simple case of
    “No matter how much things change,they
    always stay the same”….. or something
    like that. Like Ed states above though,
    I have a hard time considering the likes
    of Green Day,Sum 41 or Good Charlotte to
    be “Punk”.

  • Ed

    Within the last year, I’ve never seen punk music so involved with politics before. Ever. Besides, of course, the whole anarchy idea. But I suppose that depends on what one considers punk. I don’t really consider Green Day, Good Charlotte, or Sum 41 punk.