Friday, May 15, 2009
Punk Pop Double-Review: "Take Off Your Pants And Jacket" by blink-182 and "All Killer No Filler" by Sum 41
I'm not sure how it came to this, folks. 90% of this blog has turned into poorly articulated attempts to defend decades-old music most everybody has defined as "reprehensibly shitty." I'm sure many of you will feel I have crossed the line with this one. But that's OK! I should have seen this coming a long time ago. I don't update for weeks and once I finally DO update, it's all just praise for generic early 2000s punk-pop. If you feel the need to stop reading out of disgust right now, that's fine. I understand. Just know that I have always valued your friendship.
For those of you who are still reading, hello! Let's talk about blink-182 and Sum 41 why not. Both bands were quite popular at the beginning of the decade, arguably peaking in 2001 when they each released very popular records within a month of each other - blink-182's "Take Off Your Pants And Jacket" (har har) and Sum 41's "All Killer No Filler." Both records were released around the same time I was leaving middle school, a time I mostly associate with Mountain Dew Code Red, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2 and Total Request Live. As a newly minted 14-year-old wannabe skater, songs like "The Rock Show" and "Fat Lip" were apart of my world. Of course, high school came and went and in the wake of Avril Lavigne and Good Charlotte I forgot why I had ever cared about pop-punk in the first place. By my senior year of high school, punk-pop groups somehow all collectively decided that they needed to be considered "mature"; as such, we got blink-182's "I Miss You" and Sum 41's "Pieces." Neither were particularly salvageable.
Now, to be fair, blink-182's indecipherable sink into cloying seriousness made a bit more sense than Sum 41's. This is only obvious to me, though. I am sure that, to the many many readers of this blog, the differences between blink-182 and Sum 41 are negligible at best - but whoop whoop, I would be inclined to disagree with you! Having listened closely to both Take Off and All Killer, I can tell you that blink-182 are a band full of earnest-to-a-fault romantics pining for their teenage years, while Sum 41 is a band of braindead chucklefucks who are just too fucking punk to handle (at least, this is how they viewed themselves). I mean, if you're talking musically, then sure - you're gonna find very few differences between the two, save for vocals. But attitude? Totally different. Totally.
Did blink-182 even consider themselves a punk band? God, I hope they didn't. They don't even sound like they were trying to be a punk band on Take Off Your Pants - this is pop music, through and through, sometimes even inching towards power pop to these ears. Neither Mark Hoppus nor Tom DeLonge have anything resembling mean, "punk" vocal deliveries - Hoppus sounds like an overly-nice 17-year-old, and DeLonge sounds like a good-natured prankster. Nothing dangerous. They'd curse enough to get a Parental Advisory sticker on their albums, but that was the extent of their rebellion. The two most popular singles off this album, "The Rock Show" and "First Date," demonstrate their pop side perfectly - both are happy fun songs about high school love, both apparently written at the same time by Hoppus and DeLonge respectively. "The Rock Show" will forever be my favorite blink-182 song - it is the most perfect song directed at 14-year-old males ever written (that "I couldn't wait for the summer at the Warped Tour" line gets me every time). "First Date" is practically as good, following the whole "let's make this night last forever" vibe that made "Rock Show" so charming. Beyond those two singles, Take Off Your Pants And Jacket is pretty straightforward and earnest - "Story Of A Lonely Guy," "Online Songs," "Shut Up," "Reckless Abandon," et cetera et cetera. Songs about sad teenagers running away from home. Not very "punk."
Sum 41, though. Oh man. Watch out for these guys! How'd you like a "Fat Lip," motherfucker? Huh? You heard that one? You heard that unstoppable blaze of macho anti-conformity?? "I don't wanna waste my tame / becoming another casualty of society!" Yeah! YEAHHH!! Unlike those puss-wusses Hoppus and DeLonge, Deryck Whibley had the wannabe-punk voice nailed in 2001 - obnoxious, stupid, and completely blunt, it is a voice that is one part silly and two parts hilarious. It is this voice that makes songs like "Fat Lip," "Motivation" and "Nothing On My Back" perfect encapsulations of pop-punk pseudo-rebellion. Sum 41 ratched up their edge-factor a little more by wearing their metal influences on their sleeves, referring to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden as "gods" in "Fat Lip" and including a noodly little solo in the bridge of "In Too Deep." Hell, they even go all out an include a straight-up metal homage, "Pain For Pleasure" (which is goofy enough to be a parody) and a mock-evil intro track.
But all the metal stuff, all the punk stuff, it's all a gimmick. Of course they weren't a punk band. Maybe they were afraid to admit it, but Sum 41 were a pop band too, just as much as blink. I mean, "In Too Deep"? Barely even a punk-wannabe song - hell, the lyrics aren't even that mean! It's a straight-up pop song, and a decent one at that. Then there's the biggest single, the aforementioned "Fat Lip," which is simply a masterpiece. It is the most perfect dose of pop-punk bravado ever devised. The opening riff is monstrous and silly, and the half-rapped lyrics are so completely over-the-top it is hard not to take them as a joke. Lines like "Because you don't know us at all, we laugh when old people fall / but what would you expect with a conscience so small?" and "We like songs with distortion, to drink in proportion / the doctor said my mom should've had an abortion" are so beautiful I almost want to cry. These - and I mean this - are lines I could never come up with. I just don't have the mindset, the pure brass balls. God, I wish I did.
So blink-182 were a romantic pop band for teenagers, labeled as a punk band. Sum 41 were a pop band, labeled as a punk band, and trying - with every fiber of their being - to live up to that label. So you can see how awkward it would be for a band like Sum 41 to record a tender ballad. Sung by Deryck Whibley. Deryck, let me just quote your song "Summer" for you: "Caught up in your life / excuses are so lame / YOU may be different / but I'm still the same!"
Maybe I haven't talked about the records enough in this review. I like both of them, I really do. Plenty of songs are crushed beneath generic pop-punk power chords and cloying vocals, a both albums kinda peter out after the singles have run their course. Once in a while, though, something will hit me in a way I don't expect. It's usually when these guys branch out a little; blink's "Story Of A Lonely Guy" is a lovely little song with a kind of 80's pop feel, and Sum's "Motivation" is a pretty kickin' hard rock song (not to mention "Never Waking Up," a surprisingly convincing hardcore punk parody). These are bands that remind me of happier days. So I can't dislike them as much as I probably should.
I will end this review with some recommended music videos from each band - because, let's be honest, early 2000s pop-punk videos are THE greatest music videos on the planet. They also do pretty decent job of visually distinguishing both bands - blink-182's videos are all goofy fun, and Sum 41's are all crazy punk house parties. They are just riveting.
Blink 182: First Date, The Rock Show
Sum 41: Fat Lip (you HAVE to watch this one, I don't care who you are - it is 3 of the finest minutes you will ever experience), In Too Deep, Makes No Difference, and I GUESS Motivation (despite the fact that it takes place during no party of any kind)