Review Summary: Painted the album as a faster, punker American Idiot, the reality is that the music is inoffensive and overproduced, and the political posturing is comical at best.
Everybody’s played them. You know those puzzles you do as a child where you’re given two seemingly identical pictures and asked to circle the alleged “differences.” The differences can be as blatant or as difficult to find as the puzzle-maker’s meanness will allow, but the one thread which runs through them all is that the final, most subtle discrepancy always appears to be designed specifically to fu
ck your little five-year old brain up and get you sent to bed early. The puzzles hinge on the brain’s tendency to present things as they should be rather than as they truly are; the brain obscures the differences so that it actually becomes a physical strain to recognise what’s completely obvious- that the damn picture of a boat on the wall is hilariously crooked in the second picture- and it only seems to become more difficult with age.
Sum 41’s fifth album Underclass Hero
is essentially a more elaborate play on the same cheap trick, recycling ideas from their back catalogue, from other bands' catalogues and, impressively, successive songs from the same album. Lead single ‘Underclass Hero’ more or less borrows the guitar riff from 2001’s breakthrough single ‘Fat Lip,’ albeit with less rhythmic variation, and closely follows the half-rapped verse, ultra-melodic chorus blueprint it established. The former and ‘March Of The Dogs,’ the other pre-release teaser, are transparent attempts to ride the coattails of Green Day’s American Idiot
having been released in the interim), though with little of that band’s instinctive vitality and none of their inventiveness. The entire pre-release campaign appears to be have been designed to paint the album as a faster, punker American Idiot
, yet the reality is anything but: the music is inoffensive and overproduced, and the political posturing is comical at best.
Frontman Deryck Whibley’s announcement that “[I’ll never] become a victim of your conformity” (‘Fat Lip’) seemed cute at the time; half-way through 2007, with the peak of anti-Bushism three years behind us, Deryck Whibley’s self-appointment as the Underclass’s “hero at large” is either really good or really bad satire- either way, it's not particularly convincing. ‘March Of The Dogs’ and ‘Confusion And Frustration In Modern Times’ operate along similar lines, the former closing with one of the most cringe-worthy eight lines in modern music: eight rhyming lines ending with ‘-ed,’ more reminiscent of a scene from Happy Gilmore
than a serious political statement.. Similarly clumsy are ‘Dear Father’ and ‘Walking Disaster,’ a pair of demon-exorcising ballads aimed at Whibley’s absentee father; recycling a single vocal melody, lyrically, they’re deeply felt but totally inept. The singer seems more concerned with maintaining the rhyming scheme than actually making any sense.
While Underclass Hero
isn’t completely bankrupt of originality like, for instance, Good Charlotte’s Good Morning Revival
, it not as well-executed as the Madden Brothers’ latest foray into the world of plagiarism. Underclass Hero
tries its best to be profound and musically challenging, however its only success is found, without exception, in the tracks which drop the pretense entirely and return to the formula which made the group popular to begin with. ‘King Of The Contradiction’ recalls vintage Green Day with razor sharp bass and guitar riffs and telephone-line distortion- there’s even a brief appearance of ska-lite horns. ‘Count Your Blessings’ and ‘Speak Of The Devil’ hint at the heavy metal influence almost entirely excised with the departure of lead guitarist Dave “Brownsound” Baksh last year. Surprisingly, the best song on the disc clocks in below a minute; the poppy, folky French-language number ‘Ma Poubelle’ is reminiscent of The Beatles’ ‘Michelle,’ only lewder and, by extension, more authentically French.