Review Summary: Sum 41 returns to its poppier roots and manages to craft a fun, enjoyable album.
When a band claims to return to a sound heard on their earlier records, it isn't often a good prospect. How many bands have taken the easy way out, opting for the tried, tested, and true formula, only for it to turn out bland and tired? It's happened countless times, no doubt about that, and when Canadian pop-punk band Sum 41 announced that the group's latest full length album, Underclass Hero, would reflect that of previous outings (i.e. All Killer No Filler, Does This Look Infected?), one would have to wonder if the Ajax, Ontario based group would mean the same dreary fate. But no, fortunately for the act and its fan base, Underclass Hero is quite the fun, entertaining album. But even more importantly, the pop-punkers have been able to put past hardships (particularly the loss of long time lead guitarist Dave Baksh) behind them and have crafted a good album worth listening to.
Underclass Hero takes Sum 41 away from the heavier, almost metal-influenced punk heard on Chuck. In its place is a 49 minute record which, as I mentioned, sounds a lot like the band could have released it in 2001. Indeed, their fifth release is unabashedly pop-punk by numbers. Catchy song writing based around simple, often fast paced guitar riffs, frontman Deryck Whibley's melodic singing, and well, energy. Such a formula is quite distinguishable in most of the tracks, including the two singles Walking Disaster and Underclass Hero (both containing the same rebellious gusto found on All Killer), but is perhaps best put to use in the song Count Your Last Blessings. Perhaps the strongest song musically, the track makes use of short bursts of angry, quick-paced guitar work as well as sombre piano based verses. Whibley's vocal efforts are also a large part of the song, however here his effort is more mid-raged and rougher sounding and fits in perfectly with the irate overtones of the chorus. With that in mind, Underclass Hero does feature a more mature side to the band, and surprisingly (aside from perhaps Count Your Last Blessings) it is these moments where Sum 41 shines the most. The likes of Dear Father, Best of Me, and So Long Goodbye are some of the record's slower songs, but despite the lack of energy, the band manages to craft them in an entertaining, enjoyable manner. Best of Me in particular conveys the regretful themes stressed in its music and lyrics extremely well and is perhaps the most impressive moment of the album.
But what really holds back Underclass Hero is not a lack of great, entertaining songs. Nah, the real drawback in Sum 41's latest endeavour is that several of the tracks sound like they've been heard countless times before. Indeed lead single and title track sounds a lot like Fat Lip. Songs like March of the Dogs and Speak of the Devil do resemble a series of past tracks. But the fast, pop-punk-esque tracks aren't the only offenders in this regard. The album's highlight, Best of Me, sounds an awful lot like Blue October's Hate Me, though this "version" so to speak is a lot less depressing and performed better on virtually all aspects. In King of Contradiction listeners are subject to chugging riffs which sound suspiciously close to the ones heard on Black Sabbath's Children of the Grave. Yeah, you get the point. The music is enjoyable, but it's difficult not to take off points for originality.
With Underclass Hero, Sum 41 isn't reinventing their musical style. They don't really progress at all, and seem to be content in resting on their laurels. But despite this, they're still crafting simple, decent little anthems that are fun to sit back and chill out to. Apart from Count Your Last Blessings and perhaps King of Contradiction the heavily metal influenced direction which was prevalent in Chuck seems to have been generally abandoned, and with the loss of guitarist Dave Baksh there aren't solos to spice up the music, yet despite this the act manages to find away to remain entertaining. If you haven't enjoyed Sum 41's past material than checking this out is fairly pointless (unless you have a lot of time on your hands or are a masochist – by all means check it out) as it doesn't really make an effort to differentiate from the likes of All Killer No Filler. On the other hand if you're into the likes of Green Day, Blink-182, Gob etc, than Underclass Hero is definitely an album worth looking into, as it pieces together all the elements which make the genre so enjoyable to listen to.
Best of Me
Count Your Last Blessings