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.