Good Charlotte are an American pop punk band from Waldorf, Maryland, that formed in 1996. Since 1998, the band’s steadfast members have been lead vocalist Joel Madden, lead guitarist/vocalist Benji Madden, bassist Paul Thomas, rhythm guitarist/keyboardist Billy Martin and drummer Dean Butterworth.
Their sophomore effort, The Young And The Hopeless, came out in 2002, and went triple platinum in the States alone. Singles such as “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous”, “The Anthem” and “Girls & Boys” allowed the band to achieve rock to pop crossover success.
Since then, the band have knocked out a further four albums. The fourth of those, and sixth overall, Youth Authority, was released on Friday, July 15. The album features guest appearances from Sleeping With Sirens’ lead vocalist/keyboardist, Kellin Quinn; and Biffy Clyro’s lead vocalist/guitarist, Simon Neil.
The opening track, “Life Changes”, opens with a flourish of guitar before going headlong into their typical pop punk sound. However, the hook is beefy and rather epic. Welcome and, to be honest, unexpected. A middle section provides a vocal refrain, just muted guitars below it. The “whoa whoa” closing moments are rousing, indeed.
“Makeshift Love” begins acoustically before diving into to some choppy power chords. There are also some pretty crunching, almost grooving riffs thrown into the song for good measure. Definitely unexpected, given how one maybe tends to picture their signature sound as being. Those crunching riffs close the piece.
The third, the contemplative “40 oz. Dream” begins things acoustically, as before. The pace picks up a bit, but still acoustic based. Eazy-E, Snoop Dogg and Dr Dre are name-checked in this track, as if pining for the years of the Nineties, perhaps perceived as the last classic decade of music.
The lyrics also cover punk rock bands who, these days, some of which are in their forties. Still, somehow, aging and skinny, forty ounce punks ruling the roost in the genre? Their success, perhaps, based upon an overwhelming desire to hear and watch retrospective bands, and not current bands? Maybe just a gangsta rap reference, the tipple of choice for the aforementioned rap trio?
Away from the questions is yet another song underpinned with an acoustic foundation, “Life Can’t Get Much Better”. The drums sound big and bold, the kind of sound John Bonham pursued with Led Zeppelin. It also builds to a satisfying climax, rapid gun fire of the drum and guitar with an energy that, at its roots, is probably very punk rock.
“Keep Swingin’” features Kellin Quinn, and appears to take aim at those who say the band’s sold out. The attitude being, you could suppose, is that only an all out offense can guard you from all who want to chop you down. The boxer that goes in, and never gives up, swinging, kind of thing. The closing moments are beautiful and earnest. There appears to be even some strings added to the end, too. Over the top, yes, but definitely at least a little majestic.
The slightly despondent “Reason To Stay” features Simon Neil. The latter’s Scottish accent, perceivably the sound of a rogue punk personified, is most welcome. Some interesting tempo changes, like hi-hat dominated rhythms, plus good use of dynamics, makes for something that’s too progressive just to be deemed pop punk and no more.
Acoustic openings appear to dominate this album, and “Stray Dogs” is no different. The hook is heartfelt, though, very heart on sleeve. Maybe even left bleeding on the floor, like all good rock showmen can convey. Some of the, what appears to be the vocal tracks, are layered as such that they do sound a tad distorted, though.
Given the genre, however, it’s maybe the intention to have some of the elements of the song too overwhelming to bear, sometimes. Certainly it matches the emotional theme of saying too much, giving away to the extent you might dig yourself into a metaphorical hole.
“Stick To Your Guns (Interlude)” seems to have strings, and the like, that segue, in a contrasting sense, into the harder edged “The Outfield”. A juxtaposition, of sorts; light blending into shade, dainty delicate into bludgeoning bold. This, itself, tinkles innocently, at times, but is also paired with driving guitar and drum.
What appears to be the middle section sees a certain ferocity in the vocals. Really pleasing because a certain bite and venom is like conveying to someone that you do care, and would fight their corner; stick to your guns when out on the battlefield. Any time, any day.
Melancholy “Cars Full Of People” has a pounding, simple drum beat, predominantly on the bass drum. You can picture crowd participation, here. Clapping hands, out with the lighters or mobile phones, etc. Anyway, the song does actually veer elsewhere, too. Just getting that tad busier, kind of thing. Its guitar refrain, at the end, flutters as if heading skyward. Very graceful.
“War” has a satisfying tribal beat to begin with. Things get choppy, before, again, coming with the tribal beat. This is then interrupted for some excellent displays of dynamics, before resuming, again. A middle section allows for some melancholy guitar, searching and wandering.
The bass guitar really reveals its chops and dirty bite in this one, too. The song chugs expertly, with real energy arriving at the desolate, shouting chorus. The closing moments have some pretty crazy, progressive instances. Again, not what you’d expect from the band, before ending with a real sense of abrupt finality.
Second from last, “Moving On”, is passionate, with some pretty busy drums locking that rhythm. However, there are tinkles of piano to be heard, really developing sense of light and shade. Good dynamics, in other words. The vocals are really at the top of Joel’s voice, real grit. Probably hoarse after recording this one. Everything rings out in the closing moments, here, including some effect laden vocals.
Closer, “Rise (Bonus Track)”, is quite moody, combining the atmosphere of more dance orientated aspects, aswell as some rock ones. The bass has real bite, maybe slightly distorted or overdriven to cut through quite a dense soundscape. This reviewer felt as if the vocals of Joel reminded him of someone with a similar vocal style. It wasn’t until this song, especially with the higher register stuff, that he realised Joel sounds akin to Papa Roach’s Jacoby Shaddix.
The album ends with Iron Maiden esque “whoa whoa” moments, which ends things as they started in the very first track. Symmetry is always appreciated, lending the album a somewhat progressive feel. Also, it’s as if it were put together, in this way, to evoke some sort of concept, like the repeated motifs, or riffs, throughout Pink Floyd’s The Wall.
Highlights from the album include aforementioned closer, “Rise (Bonus Track)”, and particularly how it interacts with the album’s opener, “Life Changes”. The “whoa whoa” moments in both are rousing, the kind you here in an Iron Maiden song when you suppose, perhaps vividly imagining, good overcoming evil.
Maybe good is overcome, albeit heroically, in the opener; and maybe evil is overcome, just in the nick of time, in the closer? The hook, moreover, in “Life Changes” is beefy and rather epic, a tad more profound that you’d expect from typical pop punk fare. Also, the dance music elements, very industrial sounding, in “Rise (Bonus Track)” further that development of the band’s sound, that they’re more than a pop punk band.
Between the opener and closer, furthermore, are tracks like “Makeshift Love”, “40 oz. Dream” and “Life Can’t Get Much Better”. These, like the opener and closer, seem to go out of their way to prove their more-than-pop-punk stripes.
Although, indeed, each has its individual merits, it just seems like they’re acoustic, at least in parts, for the sake of being acoustic. What makes things worse is that, however well the opener and closer are placed in the track listing, these are grouped together, one following the other. A bit tired, in retrospect.
The acoustic esque track that, indeed, is actually satisfying is “Stray Dogs”. Its emotional edge, baring all and vulnerable, is furthered by the fact some elements of the track, like fighting, these days, some sort of loudness war, occasionally make you cringe. The cringe probably helps convey to the listener that not all emotional nudity is pretty, and, if ugly, it’s all the more profound and, in a way, brave. Between the opener and closer, it’s easily one of the album highlights.
Good Charlotte, perhaps a bit of a pop punk enigma on this release, have endeavoured to be different. Yes, they have moments associated with pop punk, but at least they’ve tried to grow, spanning more than just one genre. More than pop punk. Good Charlottle’s Youth Authority can be bought from iTunes here.
Words by Andre Watson