Punk’s always been a young man’s game. Pop punk, on the other hand, is a taste kids tend to abandon before their acne even clears up. It also doesn’t help when the genre’s most notable peddlers typically abandon the power-chord craft themselves. And not even Taking Back Sunday could make the genre seem so last summer like Brand New did in 2003 with their sophomore effort, Deja Entendu. In anticipation of their Tuesday show at Cabooze Plaza, we decided to take a look at the most notable pop-punk acts to attempt mid-career maturity-grabs.
1. Brand New — Deja Entendu (2003)
After a long tour-cycle in support of their breakneck debut, Your Favorite Weapon, frontman Jesse Lacy had become admittedly nervous about the pigeon-holish implications that a season of Warped Tours pandering to suburban juvenalia could induce. So, even from the vantage point of its author, Deja Entendu plays as an undisputably reactionary effort. Singles like “Guernica” and “The Quiet Things that No One Ever Knows” scratch a similar itch as their debut, but ambling tracks like the Sunny Day Real Estate-indebted “Good to Know if I ever Need Attention All I have to Do is Die” play like a direct challenge to the attention span (or patience) of last summer’s sweet 16 fanbase.
Does it hold up? Kind of. I mean, did you see the title of the last song I mentioned? Woe is Jesse Lacey, am I right? Lacy’s post-Weapon career has always been plagued by equating maturity with mopiness. That could also explain why he deploys a pretty pathetic Morrissey cadence in “The Boy Who Blocked His Own Shot,” which continues to pop up through their scrapped The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me demos. Still, lead guitarist Vincent Accardi is as much a part of Brand New’s DNA as Lacy, and even though his best work doesn’t come until Devil and God, by then, Lacy’s songwriting is so dour that it could soundtrack Se7en. Stick with Deja Entendu.
2. Blink-182 — Self-titled (2003)
In retrospect, Blink-182’s career trajectory seems like it all could have been a premeditated strategy by some exec at Universal, because their whole catalog seems to progress at the same level of its core demographic of adolescent boys. It’s a plan that started with their initial exposure via the summer vacation veejay cycle. They followed that up with a wiser record on the highs and lows of life transitions (albeit still naming it after a masturbation pun), and they ended their most unimpeachable reign ended with something interpreted as overly serious (and not even naming it).
Does it hold up? Kind of. These days, co-frontman Tom DeLonge is remarkably straight-faced for a guy who claims to have made legitimate contact with aliens. On their self-titled effort, Hoppus and Barker indulged Delonge’s grounded songwriting while still providing a better backing band than his past pseudo-serious efforts like Boxcar Racer. And “Always” and “I Miss You” sound downright feminist considering the band once penned “I need a girl that I can train” as a hook. But the parts are greater than the whole, and “Feeling This” wasn’t any better of a lead single sans the toilet humor.
3. Green Day — American Idiot (2004)
Throughout their principle reign, Green Day never really approached their focal points of revolt with laser-like precision or anything. More often than not, they were just rebelling against their own Gen-X lethargy. Even though the band allegedly lost an album’s worth of Dookie-er material prior to writing 2004’s straight-faced American Idiot, the whole enterprise seemed like a pretty calculated re-branding at the time. At that point, their fanbase now covered a widened spectrum from post-skanking adults to Hot-Topic-clad tweens, so it’s sensible that the final product had fewer sharp edges than a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker.
Does it hold up? No. For all intents and purposes, the pre-hiatus Warning plays as a much more “adult” work than American Idiot, specifically for how dressed-down and unpretentious the former is. And American Idiot’s brand of musical politicking has fallen out of fashion since its Iraq War heyday. A major through-line of Green Day’s work is how adulthood carries no grand promise of wisdom or success. At least with American Idiot, the band got to enjoy one of those things.
5. New Found Glory — Coming Home (2006)
New Found Glory is the just-right temperature of pop punk. They’re fun like Blink 182, but not funny. They’re bleeding hearts but, unlike Brand New, not to the point of bleeding out. That superficial blandness of the NFG brand always remained moot point since the hooks sold themselves. It took until their fifth record, the piano-laden Coming Home, to really flex with their formula at all.
Does it hold up? Yes. New Found Glory’s undercooked collective persona has always given them a very earnest quality that’s unrivaled in a scene very wrapped up in press-ready identities. The amount of keys used on the record feels a little of-the-era compared to the adventurous guitar work on songs like “Boulders." But like most of New Found Glory’s work, it’s good enough and honest enough to transcend genre trappings.
5. Sum 41 — Chuck (2004)
By Does This Look Infected?, Sum 41 had refashioned their radio-ready singles from skatepark anthems to anxious caterwauls. By 2004, they weren’t getting any radio play at all, but that never really seemed to be a major goal with that year’s Chuck. Written in the wake of a dicey evacuation from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, ringleader Deryck Whibley wonderfully sucks the fun out of the room through much of the record with cheeky song titles like “We Are All To Blame”.
Does it hold up? No. It’s not fair to diminish the impact that their time in a war-torn DRC likely had on the band, but Whibley as a songwriter just didn’t have the facilities to articulate any of that anvil-sized subject into anything compelling. Like the aforementioned song title, it’s a record flushed with platitudes. Chuck’s pristine production also doesn’t dress the songs appropriately for the occasion, but outside of that, the sheen to both vocals and guitars sounds dated regardless of what’ Whibley’s singing about.