Review Summary: Giving Sum 41 the benefit of the doubt, this album is still too pop-oriented for its own good.
The punk scene has always been one to draw a ruthless quantity of criticism. Sum 41 isn’t a particularly unique band, but their efforts over the last decade have done enough to distinguish them from their peers. Albums such as “All Killer No Filler”, “Does This Look Infected?”, and “Chuck” were all highly praised, critically acclaimed punk albums that seemed to establish Sum 41 as poster boys of the genre. But while these were all admittedly good, they never branched out from that territory. That’s where “Underclass Hero” chimes in, with its pop-sensibility and shameless attempts to create the band’s very own American Idiot.
It all started with Sum 41 trying to find their image as a band. With the loss of guitarist Dave Baksh, whose riffs kept “Chuck” rather interesting, and disagreements within the band as to whether or not Sum 41 should even continue, they desperately needed to do something to recapture the magic. While most bands attempting to establish an image rip off of other artists, Sum 41 was too respectable of a band to do something that atrocious. Instead, they ripped off of themselves and created a murky, watered-down version of their smash single “Fat Lip” to kick things off. This song, “Underclass Hero”, which is structurally identical to the aforementioned 2001 hit, does everything it can to remind listeners of what once made the band intriguing and somewhat unique. Unfortunately, it also does nothing to show that they have improved. Even more unfortunately, the song represents some of the album’s best work.
Okay, I lied about Sum 41 not ripping off of their peers. The entire album is riddled with songs that sound like second rate Green Day and Blink-182 b-sides. Take “Walking Disaster” for example. Derrick Whibley tries as hard as he can to duplicate Tom Delonge’s vocals in the first few verses (at which point anyone must stop and ask, for God’s sake, why?) before the “breakdown” and finally a standard Sum 41 chorus. Also in the same category is the album’s closer, “So Long Goodbye”. Creative stuff. This time it sounds like Whibley literally went right ahead and ripped out Billy Joe Armstrong’s vocal chords and had them implanted. With lyrics like “Time passes by direction unknown, you’ve left us now but we’re not alone…” one must stop to ponder if this is Sum 41 taking a stab at making their own version of “Good Riddance” only without the good lyrics or sincere sentiment. I’m sorry Sum 41, but you will never stand alongside Blink and Green Day as masters of pop-punk. And no, no one will ever love you like people love them. Be happy with where you stand (or I should say once stood) and leave your better counterparts alone.
By the time the album reaches tracks such as “March of the Dogs” and “The Jester” it would almost appear as if the band has taken my advice. But alas, they go right ahead and start imitating their lesser peers. The chorus of “The Jester” sounds suspiciously similar to My Chemical Romance’s “House of Wolves” from The Black Parade. This theory fits right in with Sum 41’s ambition to create a concept album, which is not only evidenced by the American Idiot-esque lyrics throughout “March of the Dogs” but also by their attempts to create a seamless flow between the two songs. It may not be immediately noticeable, but there are also some clear Avril Lavigne influences here. All jokes aside, listen to “My Happy Ending” and “With Me” back to back. It wouldn’t be surprising at all to find out that Avril had a small hand in helping her husband write that song (her husband of that time, seeing as this was before the divorce. I was going to make a joke about this album potentially leading to the split, until I realized that Avril doesn’t have the musical keenness to recognize a horrendous album when she hears it…so never mind…). To top things off, “Best of Me” sounds eerily akin to Blue October’s “Hate Me”, yet another song that was popular around the time of this album’s release. Just saying.
Giving Sum 41 the benefit of the doubt and assuming that any similarities between these songs and other works are purely coincidental, this album is still too pop-oriented for its own good. Following a hardcore-geared album like Chuck, Underclass Hero just rings hollow. It lost Sum 41 a good portion of its original fan base, and even those who don’t mind it seem to be indifferent towards it at best. The truth is Sum 41 had to see this massive failure coming. The entire concept behind the album is pretentious, and they go all out to make people realize it with the 56 second, French-spoken, mid-album dud “Ma Poubelle”. The truth is that they would have been better off taking “Speak of the Devil”, “Dear Father”, “Count Your Last Blessings” and “Pull the Curtain” and creating a decent EP. Instead, they took the only new/unique material and surrounded it with the heard-it-before circus that is the rest of the Underclass Hero album. Sum 41 still has a chance to turn things around, but if they continue down the path they are headed, their fans will be singing “So Long Goodbye” to them.