The Chronicles Of Life & Death
hat you’re about to read is the only 6 out of 10 review of this album that will imply this score is a severe disappointment. It’s being written by someone who believes that Good Charlotte’s 2002 mainstream breakthrough, The Young & The Hopeless, is possibly the finest major label pop-rock-punk-whatever album since Weezer’s Pinkerton. Like Pinkerton, the lyrics are near-perfect, blessedly literal expressions of emotion and identity delivered through unabashed and outrageously catchy songcraft. With the help of Smashmouth/QOTSA producer Eric Valentine, they refused to pretend they weren’t raised on MTV and utilized a fuller range of studio effects than those who came before them; if Green Day’s Dookie was the moment punk became pop, The Young & The Hopeless was the revelatory sound of pop becoming punk. The four hit singles collectively mocked unearned self-pity, celebrated non-conformity, dismissed materialism and attempted to console the isolated and suicidal. Album tracks were equally rich and engaging—a string-fueled murder fantasy, a celebration of “riot girls”, and a Social Distortion-esque track where Benji described his last day on earth. Compare that to any other group out today and you’ll realize how simple-minded and superficial it is to dismiss them just because they have the nerve to dress “punk” on TRL.
Unfortunately, Good Charlotte wants the approval of their less populist peers more than I do. In today’s ever-more emo youth-rock marketplace, a “maturity move” for Good Charlotte means reveling in the emotional torment they once counseled against. Already hindered inspiration-wise by two years spent doing nothing but touring and (allegedly) breaking up with long-term girlfriends, the Madden Bros. (undoubtedly encouraged by guitarist Billy Martin, a big Perfect Circle fan who contributes the Tim Burton-influenced album artwork) have decided to submit to the absurd adolescent pretense that groups like AFI and The Used are somehow more soulful and insightful then they are. They’ve swapped the Clash and Minor Threat for the Cure and Morrissey; defiant cultural commentary for morose internal reflection.
This isn’t entirely unrewarding. Moony anthems like “Ghost Of You” and “The World Is Black” are as memorable and dreamily melodic as songs from Vauxhall and Disintegration respectively, only with more aggressive arrangements. “We Believe” takes the swooning even further (and arguably too far) with lyrics like “There’s a love that could fall down like rain / Let us see, let forgiveness wash away the pain” and earnest falsettos on the chorus. “Secrets” and “Mountain” are fine additions to their open-hearted mall-punk catalog (the former is what the Mozz/Jerry Finn collabo should have sounded like) and the album features two startling examples of stylistic experimentation: “I Just Wanna Live”, a better NERD song than anything on Fly Or Die (including the one Benji and Joel sang on) and “The Truth”, an overambitious Plastic Ono Band homage.
Thanks to the self-consciousness caused by the conflict of massive pop success and their refusal to give up their Warped Tour dreams of bad-ass cred, their gorgeous Everly Brothers 2K choruses are often hindered by status quo lurch-verses and they're writing awkward, maudlin poetry about emotions they tackled more insightfully and rationally beforehand—I'd recommend the lonely suicidal hero of "S.O.S." check out their hit ballad "Hold On". None of the numerous numbers that obsess over romantic frustration beat the open-hearted ballad "Say Anything", the only track on The Young & The Hopeless to deal with break-up. "Predictable", the first single, at least acknowledges that they should be above this shit by now and voices frustration over their self-delusion rather than the emotional rejection they received (though the “Institutionalized"-style rant break and the Emo Scissorhands video are a bit much even for these sap-happies).
I might find fault in their complaints about fame on “I Just Wanna Live” if the rapped (you heard me) description of a Rolling Stone interview wasn’t such a blessed relief from all the groans about life falling away and being broken inside under the rain in this world of pain. Their musical gifts haven’t left them (anybody who disagrees should be forced to listen to the interminable twerps in A New Found Glory until they see the light) and their overwrought yet empathetic lyrics signify that their bandwagon jumping is misguided rather than crass (anybody who feels otherwise should be forced to listen to the idiots in Simple Plan until they see the light). It would be foolish to predict whether or not they’ll achieve the consistency of The Young & The Hopeless again, but since the overwhelming majority of people their age and older haven’t even given them credit they’re due for that one, I hope this album's reception doesn't get them even more rattled.
Reviewed by: Anthony Miccio
Reviewed on: 2004-10-18