Review Summary: Secret Weapon is like a torch in dark times for the world of pop-punk; it shows off some talent and is an overall enjoyable listen. It's even got a little treat for the fans of MxPx's older style.
In today's musical world, a band full of guys who wear makeup and sing "sad" songs pass off as emo, when really they are just putting a disguise on really crappy pop-punk (Aiden, or The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, anyone?). Of late, however, there are some bands that haven't quite lived up to the standards they've set in the pop-punk genre, with Yellowcard producing a mediocre follow-up to Lights and Sounds, and Sum 41 giving us a faux-anarchist-punk list of songs that are more like 14-year-olds who hate authority out of teen angst. Okay, maybe that was a bit harsh, but I said all that to get to this one point: amidst the seemingly hopeless world of pop-punk, MxPx spring from nowhere to give the genre a good kick in the pants.
To start off this review, here’s a kind of flow chart of the album:
First two songs have lots of energy and really pull you into the album.
Next two songs disappoint with mediocre musicianship and weak stabs at catchy pop-punk.
The following chunk of songs make up for the two fillers that precede them by upping the quality of the more pop songs while providing some good punk songs in between them; this is where the meat of the album is.
The closing segment of Secret Weapon tends to lose its momentum, but there are still some unique songs that bring the album home in the final stretch.
Coming back to the conflict I set up in the first paragraph, most of today’s pop-punk is really trashy. Though pop-punk never was a genre for the most musically talented, it did provide its moments, and I find it refreshing to see MxPx give us a list of pop-punk songs that redeem the genre. You have songs that are catchy and show some decent musical talent at the same time like “Angels,” “You’re on Fire,” and “Drowning”. There’s also the highly entertaining “Bass So Low” that has steady drumming, some neat guitar riffage, and, you guessed it, a bass solo. These are the kind of things we should hear more of in pop-punk bands.
And though I speak of MxPx as pop band, they started out as a band that knew their punk rock. And Secret Weapon offers us a handful of songs that show us that the Bremerton boys have not forgotten their roots in punk, the title track being one of those songs. “Secret Weapon” opens up the album with some fast, punk drumming, a catchy sing-along chorus, topped off with a guitar solo. You also have “Shut It Down,” the brilliantly chaotic “Contention,” and the very dark use of minor chords in “Chop Shop” that will make fans of the old-school MxPx wet themselves. Even the lyrics on some of the less punk songs will probably appeal to punks to some degree.
The worst part of the album is that there are some songs that are really just fillers and aren’t very exciting, but on an album 16 tracks long, what could you expect? The one thing that I can’t stand about the fillers is how they detract from the energy of the album. I would kill to remove “Here’s to the Life,” “Top of the Charts,” and maybe a few others, or at least move them around on the album to where they won’t provide such a bore in the middle of the album’s excitement.
One last thing I want to bring up before wrapping up my review are how some songs tread into territories that are kind of foreign to the band. Sad Sad Song and Tightly Wound experiment with time signatures and smooth jam related stuff. To me, they were pretty interesting and pleasantly surprising. Really the whole album is a pleasantly surprising blend of pop and punk. Though most of the album is for those who really sunk their teeth into Panic and The Ever Passing Moment, there’s some material for the fans that have been listening since MxPx’s earliest days. Not many bands can make an album like that and show little signs of suckage, so kudos to Mike, Tom, and Yuri for their attempt with Secret Weapon.