November 2, 2016

2016: The Return of the Pop-Punk Giants

2016 was an incredible year for old and new pop-punk fans alike. We have witnessed the reunion of Sum 41, a new member in Blink-182, and new work from genre masters such as Green Day, Yellowcard, Simple Plan, and Jimmy Eat World.

Does 2016 mark the coming of a pop-punk revival? Or are bands simply trying to cash in on their once prominent image? I realize not all of these bands identify as pop-punk by today’s standards, but they were once giants in the scene at one point. Let’s work through this list chronologically.

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Simple Plan – Taking One For The Team (February 19, 2016)
Last releases: Get Your Heart On: The Second Coming EP (2013), Get Your Heart On (2011)

Yes, Simple Plan is still around. That always seems to be the consensus every time the Canadian pop-punk band releases something new. Taking One For the Team walks the fine line between “preppy-fun” and “try-hard.” This album is undeniably fun, but the context in which you enjoy it lies largely on how you feel about the band. Simple Plan has never prided themselves on their originality or musical ingenuity, bur rather on their ability to express common feelings in a fun and competent setting. Their album cover does a good job of reminding us that a 5-piece pop-punk band can still have a lot of fun…even in their mid-30’s. This album is filled with relentlessly fun tracks with, “Opinion Overload,” “Boom,” “I Refuse,” and “Nostalgic.” Each one of those tracks will get your feet tapping and singing along after the first listen. The “try-hard” aspect comes from Simple Plan’s incorporation of a couple R&B’s artists to try and recapture the magic they found with their last hit, “Summer Paradise.” The overall sappiness and pedestrian lyrics of their ballads “Perfectly Perfect” and “I Dream About You,” aren’t enough to make this album a well-rounded success. There’s plenty to like on Taking One For the Team, you just might have to skip around a bit until you find one that works.

Rating: 6/10


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Blink-182 – California (July 1, 2016)
Last releases: Dogs Eating Dogs EP (2012) & Neighborhoods (2011)

I’ve already written about this release here, but it’s good to reflect on it a few months later too. Blink-182 is my all-time favorite band. There’s honestly not a lot they could ever do to lose me as a fan. I’ve had internal debates as to wonder if I actually think California is a “good” album or if I’m just blinded by nostalgia. I truly think Blink’s intention with this album was to invoke that same sense of carefreeness that accompanied their older material and give their fans something fun. In a world where bands, specifically the pop-punk genre, are going with a gritter and more honest approach to music, it’s nice to have something light-hearted in the mix. This album knows exactly what it is and it accomplishes just that. It’s catchy and never takes itself seriously. That’s exactly what you get with Mark Hoppus running the show and it took me too long to come to that realization.

Rating: 7/10


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Yellowcard – Yellowcard (September 30, 2016)
Last release – Lift A Sail (October 7, 2014)

Cue the collective mob of people angry that I gave Yellowcard’s sendoff album a bad score on a much more popular website. Yellowcard means the world to me. I still firmly believe I’m one of 9 people alive that actually love the Lights & Sounds album. Sadly, Yellowcard has hit a lot of bumps with their last two albums and went out on a sour note for me. As noted in my review above, this album simply didn’t do it for me. The production is over-layered with electronic synths, strained vocalizers, and a horrific drum machine that make it hard to find anything authentic in the music. The lyrics are bogged down by their relentless reminder that this is in fact their last album. The stadium rock sound they’ve incorporated does little to push the progression of the band and in return they’ve lost their tenacity. There are glimpses of life in “Got Yours” & “Savior’s Robes,” but it’s not enough to salvage the damage. I’ve been able to emotionally connect with every Yellowcard release up until their last two. Maybe it will grow over time, but in the meantime I’m happy to skip this part of their discography.

Rating: 4/10


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Green Day – Revolution Radio (October 7, 2016)
Last releases: ¡UNO!, ¡DOS!, ¡TRÉ! (2012)

Green Day is a tricky band to write about. Their fan base is sprawled across a generational gap of people that got into them with Kerplunk (1992) and Dookie (1994) and then the newly initiated with American Idiot (2004). I’m one of the few who have stayed on through all of their releases and remember the drama of their sound pre-American Idiot. Their 2000 release of, Warning, was not well-received by fans that instantly proclaimed it to be the inevitable downfall of the band. The days of angst and intricate bass notes were to be replaced by tighter production and an alternative-pop sound rarely mentioned these days. Even the low-key hit of 2002’s Shenanigans wasn’t enough to get fans back.

The moral of that story is: People will ALWAYS fight about what sound Green Day should have. They are never going to go back to what they were and people have a hard time moving on from that narrative. Revolution Radio is Green Day finding their sound post-American Idiot/21st Century Breakdown. This album reminds us how good of a songwriter Billie Joe is and gives us a handful of catchy, thoughtful tracks to keep us satisfied until their next release. It’s not perfect by any means, but it doesn’t have to be; it’s still a new direction. Fans will be stuck with the Green Day conundrum of arguing about the path or accepting it once again.

Rating: 8/10


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Sum 41 – 13 Voices (October 7, 2016)
Last release: Screaming Bloody Murder (2011)
Sum 41’s eagerly awaited comeback did not disappoint. After vocalist/guitarist Deryck Whibley’s nearly lost his life due to substance abuse, he turned things around and pieced together 13 Voices. Reuniting with former lead guitarist Dave Brownsound, the now 5-piece outfit brought back some of their earlier metal-infused sounds and gave fans plenty to be happy with. Their first single, “Fake My Own Death,” combines the distortion fueled drop-D guitar work of their earlier years with the pop-punk tempo their known for. “War,” the second single Dercyk fought for, tells the story of his ups and downs over the last half-decade and his lyrics are just as poignant as ever. While some tracks are easily stronger than others, this is a welcome return-to-form for all involved. The overall tone of the record is a combination of all of their earlier work. The musical departure taken with Screaming Bloody Murder is slightly present, but overwhelmed with a more pop than usual. There’s no telling where Sum 41 will go from here, but it’s exciting to have them back and 13 Voices can take its time growing on us.
Rating: 7/10

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Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues (October 21, 2016)
Last release: Damage (2013)
It’s hard to find a band with a more devoted following than Jimmy Eat World. Their last two releases Damage (2013) and Invented (2010) weren’t well-received by fans, but found audiences nonetheless. Integrity Blues has succeeded where those albums have failed and delivers the best album Jimmy Eat World has had in 10 years. This catchy, atmospheric, emotionally driven record begs to be put on repeat. I’ll admit I was skeptical after the first couple of listens. The slick production almost feels too polished at points, but it begins to grow on you with repeat listens. If I could chose one word to describe the feeling this album provokes, it’s comfortable. Jimmy Eat World combines the heart of their earlier albums as well as the pop-friendly tones of their newer material. If there’s an album to get old fans interested in Jimmy Eat World again, this is the one.
Rating: 9/10

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