It may not be fair game to comment on the presskit, but I think the Island Record’s biography of Sum 41 goes a little too far out of its way to let you know that these fresh-faced youngsters from Toronto are “ugly goons” and “untalented dorks”. The album cover features said downy-cheeked youths in a variety of deliberately distorted poses, right before the panel advertising all of the many Sum 41 promotional products available for purchase and the several panels of song lyrics, all of which are similarly overeager solidify the image of the boys as “no goodnik lower middle class brats”. One of the songs even mentions a mullet, which has already been in the pages of Vogue, for chrissakes, as part of the eternal recycling of byegone fashion faux pas.
Well, OK. I’ll forgive them for protesting too much, since their single, “Fat Lip”, is just about the catchiest and most finely crafted bit of pop punk I’ve heard. It almost sounds as if everything that old crank Adorno had to say about culture actually came true: that executives somewhere up at Island records just looked at the demographics and said, “Hmmm, hip-hop’s cool, and so’s punk, but so’s pop so . . . let’s build the perfect beast!” And they have, they truly truly have: a Beastie Boys-esque verse segues into the most melodic and thrashing pop punk chorus imaginable, and the bridge has all the lovely, chimey harmony of the La’s’ “There She Goes”. I set my CD player on repeat and spend three hours at my crappy library job just bopping around to that number over and over again.
So I don’t really care if each one of those kids (whose similarly Adorno-ized monikers are Bizzy D, Brown Sound, Cone, and Stevo 32) are some sort of brilliant A&R creation. The incredibly tight sound would certainly indicate some mechanization — or else, as in fact must be the case, these boys spent some time practicing their instruments. The drums in particular are just as tight as hell, and provide all the necessary drive and vigor that make the rest of the album, even outside of the amazingly catchy single, a not at all unpleasant accompaniment to an afternoon of shelving books.
Producer Jerry “Finnbad” Finn, who also gave the world Green Day and Blink 182, is no doubt largely responsible for the highly polished and almost unbearably perfect sound. Songs like “In Too Deep” and “Handle This” are actually sort of love songs, delivered with the same cutesy snarl as everything else. The funniest moment on the album — and the one that I think best represents whatever authentic roots the band might have — is the last song, “Pain For Pleasure”, which is an old fashioned metal thrash fest delivered with zero irony. Nice job, kiddies, and don’t apologize: no one expects you to actually be punks. Even ‘N Sync can’t get themselves beat up these days.