Punk By Numbers
LLooking at Good Charlotte’s second full-length release, The Young & The Hopeless, it’s obvious these guys want to be punk. Badly. It’s all painfully obvious, and that’s even before you listen to the album, as you see practically every “punk” graphic design cliché in the book get pummeled to death. A lame attempt at a generation-defining album title? Check. Tons of photos of nothing but surly looking, tattooed-and-pierced young men? Check. Old English fonts? Intentionally sloppy, fanzine-style booklet layout? Photos ripped up and stapled back together to get that definitive “punky” look? Check, check, and, I’m sorry to say, check. If Good Charlotte seem intent on making their album look like an old Misfits record, it sure would be cool if they backed it all up with their own versions of “Astro Zombies” of “Die! Die! My Darling”, but instead, we’re stuck with something painfully inferior.
It may look like punk and smell like punk, but what this band has made is essentially a Poison album. A Trixter album. Heck, they’ve conjured up the ghosts of all faceless hair bands of the late ‘80s, from Britny Fox to Danger Danger to Firehouse, but at least all those bad bands from way back when had enough musical skill to play solos. Good Charlotte are enthusiastic, but in reality, have very little musical range. All they do is play the same three chords and pop vocal melodies, and thanks to producer Eric Valentine, who recently worked on the Queens of the Stone Age’s most recent album (wow, what a step down), it’s all Saran Wrapped with some of the most painfully heavy-handed production you’ll hear this year.
You hear string sections, operatic synthesizer melodies, and tympanis, and that’s all on the first instrumental track (the most bombastic lead-in to a collection of incredibly weak music since Motley Crue’s Shout At The Devil), which segues into the equally hamfisted “The Anthem”, which panders in that belligerent Vans Warped Tour style to angry 13 year olds (“I don’t ever wanna be you”). Sure, there are all the bouncy guitar riffs, the catchy melodies, and the requisite “whoa-oh”‘s, but every other punk-pop band in America is doing this as well. “Wondering” is incredibly lightweight, despite the inclusion of more tympanis (?), while the embarrassing “Girls and Boys” apes the 1980s pop sound that ‘80s punk fans despised back then (most fans of Black Flag didn’t like the Cars). And “Riot Girl” is a failed attempt at blatantly ripping off the Dead Milkmen’s “Punk Rock Girl”, where the band also takes some shots toward Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera. Hate to burst your bubble, boys, but Canadian girl band LiveOnRelease slagged Britney and Christina with much better results. Two years ago. Give it up.
As bad as all that is, I haven’t even gotten to the hair metal yet. Good Charlotte plunge headfirst into poodlehead, spandex rock clichés, only with a lame us-against-them sentiment that comes off sounding like an installment of Chicken Soup For the Punk’s Soul. “Hold On” and “Say Anything” are sappy, idiotic, more-emo-than-punk “sensitive guy” tunes that sound like the maudlin ravings of hypersensitive coffeehouse loiterers. “My Bloody Valentine” (work on those song titles, lads) tells the story of a guy who murders the boyfriend of a girl he has a crush on, but totally lacks the splatter-film humor they intend. “Emotionless” shows a little more depth, as vocalist Joel sings an open letter to his long-lost father, but instead of sounding starkly honest, it’s layered with more strings, keyboards, and whiny Staind-styled sentiment. Just a guy and his guitar would have sounded much better.
The Young & The Hopeless does have a couple of decent moments. “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous”, with its thunderous “Lust For Life”-ish drum intro (by studio veteran Josh Freese, the only guy with any musical chops on the record) is a fun rant about whiny celebrities. “The Story of My Old Man” is the one song that sounds the most punk, as Joel addresses the whole missing father subject, but with much better results. Sadly, though, the rest of the album doesn’t keep the momentum going, and by the time you get to the whiny title track (“It’s me against this world and I don’t care”) and the straight-out-of-the-Poison-catalog “Movin’ On”, you’re sick of the act.
At one point, Good Charlotte sings, “No one in this industry understands the life I lead / These critics and these trust-fund kids try to tell me what punk rock is”. This is only their second album, and they’re already touchy about the bad reviews they get. Maybe if the band dropped all the pretense of their supposed punk aesthetic, from the spiky hair to the piercings, and actually wrote and produced albums that contain good, honest, DIY substance, and not this corporate rock sodapop garbage, then perhaps they could find something a bit more pertinent to complain about.