Review Summary: Despite the occasional glimmer of hope, Cardiology is just a band desperately trying to find a way forward into a world that doesn't seem to care anymore.
Remember the summer of 2002? You couldn’t take 2 steps without hearing Good Charlotte’s ‘Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous’ or ‘Girls and Boys.’ The Madden twins and co had taken the pre-teens of the day by storm with their infectious pop punk and funny videos. The darlings of MTV, they could do no wrong. Fast forward 8 years and they’ve just made their 5th album. With each release they’ve gotten gradually worse as they struggled to find a way forward into maturity like genre royalty Blink 182 and Green Day managed. With their 4th effort, ‘Good Morning Revival’ they attempted to add a more electronic dance element to their music but it was awkward. With the rockier songs like ‘The River’ on the album as well it didn’t flow and was a major disappointment. Unfortunately, they haven’t learnt their lesson.
The album starts with the obligatory GC ‘Intro’ track. This time it’s the pointless ‘Introduction to Cardiology.’ The lyrics make no sense as Joel doesn’t seem to know the definition of cardiology. The ‘song’ is so short it might as well never have existed. Moving on…
When the album actually kicks in several things become apparent. One of them is that Joel still hasn’t learnt to sing. He has never claimed to be a great singer so on previous albums has always stuck to his limited vocal range so it’s never really been a massive problem. This time around he is trying to punch way above his weight with results that range from poor to offensively bad. As usual he has a couple of moments of screaming and as usual it sounds horrible (see ‘Standing Ovation’ for the worst example). In other places Joel tries to emulate Billie-Joe Armstrong’s new found high range but on ‘Last Night’ it just sounds like someone is twisting his nipples and they’re just painful in ‘Silver Screen Romance’.
Despite the incident of particularly bad vocals in the middle 8, ‘Silver Screen Romance’ isn’t too bad. Musically like ‘Chronicles…’ era GC, it has some pretty terrible lyrics (“You be Betty Davis. I’ll be Carey Grant. We’ll make love all night, forget about the prohibition”) but is catchy enough to stop this wrecking the song. In fact the only truly bad part is the previously mentioned middle 8. Not only is the singing bad but there are these strange electronic bleeps that don’t make any sense.
Now, those strange bleeps. In what appears to be an attempt at a new, more mature sound these annoying bleeps and synths, which seem to have come from a cheap ‘80’s Casio keyboard, have been shoved on top of random tracks all over the place. You can find them pasted onto the start of ‘Interlude: The 5th Chamber’. At the beginning of the excruciatingly bad ‘Sex on the Radio’ they form this bizarre metronome that doesn’t fit the rest of the track. They also appear in the middle of songs (‘Like It’s her Birthday’, ‘Last Night’). They make the album feel lumpy and disjointed. One minute it’s pop punk and then there’s an electronic drum beat and synth part. This could have made the album interesting but it’s poorly done so it never adds anything to the track.
Sometimes though, you can’t blame the bleeps. Some of these songs are truly horrific. ‘Last Night’ is all the major flaws of the album squeezed into less than 4 minutes. The lyrics are infantile, the vocals are painful and those annoying bleeps grate your ear drums. Combine that with stupid cry of “Let’s go!” at the start and you have a strong contender for worst song. Another contender is the track that follows called ‘Sex on the Radio’. It sounds like Metro Station and, with lines like “when she looked at me all I said was “Hello.” I took her out to eat because we were in a city that neither one of us knew”, it’s probably the worst lyrically.
The outright winner of the wooden spoon contest and, for reasons that are beyond me, lead single off Cardiology is the dismal ‘Like it’s her Birthday’. Another stupid concept, more appalling lyrics, a guitar solo that sounds factory made and leaves you feeling a little soulless… It’s like they are trying to warn people off buying the album. The most bizarre part is the where they seem to copy the Black Eyed Peas ‘I Gotta Feelin’ (seriously have a listen.)
Look beyond these tracks, however, and the album isn’t all that terrible. ‘Let the Music Play’ and ‘Counting Down the Days’ are fairly solid pop punk songs and, although the lyrics are cliché, they still make the top of the album sound promising. At the other end of the track list ‘There She Goes’, with its piano lead intro and strings, isn’t disappointing either. It’s catchy and shows that GC can use different instrumentation without it sounding forced. ‘Harlow’s Song’ sounds like it could be a Leona Lewis song and Joel’s voice falls short again in the middle but otherwise it’s a well-produced, interesting experiment. This is the only time the synths are used to good effect. They are subtle and compliment the processed drum beat and cello. The track shows innovation and progress that is sorely lacking elsewhere in the album.
Unfortunately aiming for a bigger sound doesn’t always work. On ‘Right Where I Belong’ they’ve clearly gone for the epic, stadium filling sound of AVA and 30 Seconds to Mars and, to be fair, it isn’t a bad song. The band just seems lost somewhere in the production so the song falls flat without leaving any real impact. Even with its flaws, the song shows signs that GC could go down this road successfully if they really tried.
All in all Cardiology follows the pattern and is Good Charlottes weakest album yet. There are signs of promise in ‘Right Where I Belong’ and ‘Harlow’s Song’ and even evidence that they can still do textbook pop punk with ‘Counting Down the Days’ but on the whole the album is poorly written and is all but ruined by Good Charlottes attempt at electro. This isn’t progress. If you want to change your sound then change you sound. Don’t just make irritating, spacey intros and stick keypad tones on top of songs. After all, putting icing and chocolate sprinkles on a piece of bread doesn’t make it a cake, does it?