[1 May 2012]
In a way, Pennywise’s entire career can be summed up in one strange, ironic moment. During the 2007 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Anaheim Ducks made a run to hockey’s Stanley Cup Final, eventually winning the cherished trophy. Now, most hockey teams have a song they use to celebrate each goal scored. For the Ducks, it was “Bro Hymn”, the song the band initially wrote in tribute of the deaths of three friends of original bassist Jason Thirsk, then re-released with a new lyric commemorating Thirsk himself after his 1996 suicide.
Here was a professional sports team, using this song celebrating life, but looking upon death so severely, using one of the saddest uses of “whoa” in punk rock history to celebrate goal scoring. Pennywise even changed the lyrics from “Jason Thirsk, this one’s for you” to “Anaheim Ducks, this one’s for you”. It’s hard not to see the macabre humor, but now Pennywise has become defined by the song, for better or worse. From now on, to casual observers, they’ll be “that band with that long ‘whoa’ song”.
But for those who’ve followed Pennywise since their self-titled, Epitaph debut, the future of the band is very much in doubt. All or Nothing is the group’s first record in four years, and it’s their first without original lead singer Jim Lindberg, who left in 2010 over creative differences and a desire to tour less. Replacing singers are always such a dubious step in a band’s life if you aren’t AC/DC, and Zoli Teglas—frontman for fellow Orange County knuckleheads Ignite—has a tough job.
It isn’t that Lindberg’s vocals or lyrics are hard to replace—far from it, though on Pennywise’s best stuff you wouldn’t think of replacing it—it’s just that continuing on with a new vocalist, under the same band name, almost 25 years on seems like such a cynical move. Fans are right to question its legitimacy.
But hey, why not give it another try? It isn’t as if they’ve got anything to lose, with the band’s legacy among punk lifers and whatever mainstream rock fans know of them cemented. Pretty much anything they do would be a lateral move or a slight step back from their previous work, so hey, why not?
Well, you’ll see why not on All or Nothing. The band takes it literally in the way they play, as Pennywise hasn’t sounded so attack-oriented in quite some time. But the lyrics and the sound are too obsessed with claiming the band is still relevant—the title track references “trying something new” above the same riffs the band has plied their trade at for years—without laying any conceivable groundwork for why this is a good idea heading into the future.
You’ll find some choruses worthy of this band’s long legacy of catchy earworms. There are plenty of “whoas” as usual. The likable tracks include harmless stuff like “Revolution” and “Songs of Sorrow”. But everything else feels like hollow attempts to rally against “The Man”, which this band was doing better 15 years ago. It rings more than a little false coming from a bunch of dudes who’ve settled well into middle age. Then there’s stuff like “Let Us Hear Your Voice”, which feels like another bite at the sports anthem apple.
I hate to be so harsh toward a band that is, in the end, delivering more or less what they’ve always delivered. Angry, drum-and-bass heavy punk rock songs. But, let’s face it, these are just a few new tunes so this new configuration of the band can feel semi-comfortable before rattling off “F**k Authority” for the thousandth time. If you like Pennywise and still feel the need to hear new music from them, then this will be fine. But I can still hear this band three or four times a night, 41 times a year whenever Teemu Selanne busts down the wing and hits the top shelf, so why bother?