Sum 41 is not a band you’re ever going to take seriously.
That’s not to say I don’t enjoy their music. Quite the opposite, actually. Whether it be a new record screaming to be heard for the first time or a bout of nostalgia drawing me back in, I’m always more than happy to give this Canadian quartet a spin. Metaphorically, of course. Who even CDs anymore? But there’s something that has always, and still does, scream ‘skin deep’ about this band and their efforts.
I listened to this band religiously when I was 15 years old, and I believe 15 year olds now are probably discovering Sum 41 and listening to their latest albums with as much conviction as I once did. And that’s fine, but I’ve always loved the growing experience I have with bands. That change in sound, mood, and motif across each album that makes you connect with the band and feel like you’re growing and maturing alongside each other. I almost feel like I graduated high school, completed university and got my first post-grad job and left Derek, Cone, Steve (or, for this album’s sake, Frank Zummo) and Dave behind in 9th grade where we first locked ears.
In early October 2016, Sum 41 released their sixth studio album 13 Voices through Hopeless Records, a change of pace from their usual Island/Aquarius produced records. It was not, however, a change of pace in terms of their musical climate. The overall sound of the album is much of what we’ve already heard from the boys – disgruntled teen coming to terms with the big bad world. Their lyrics only just scratch the surface on the political landscape of the world, which is something singer-songwriter Deryck Whibley has continually cited himself as being across. This, in itself, is a bit of a letdown given the current goings on with dictator-ish/dictator-esque/actual dictator Donald Trump/Vladimir Putin/Kim Jong Un. This is not even factoring in the five year gap between the band’s 2011 Screaming Bloody Murder and this album, which one would assume would result in the careful development of an explosive album.
The music itself has always been terrific – this band is made up of some terribly gifted musicians who know their instruments well. Even now, there is a grittiness in the melodies and compositions the angry teenage girl inside me responds to. That said, the music hasn’t elevated as much as you would expect it to over the course of 16 years, which is the length of time between the release of their first album Half Hour of Power and this most recent release. Deryck’s voice has always been incredibly distinctive, almost a trademark sound for the band and it complements the music well at every stage in the band’s discography. But this is almost a part of the band’s undoing. It comes back to the point about the band not growing and maturing the way many have before them – Deryck’s tones have remained unchanged over time – boyish and without sincerity. This is only made worse by the lyrics composed by the band, who have stuck with the tried and tested formula of rhyming each and every line with the last (‘So what am I fighting for? Everything back and more? I’m not going to let this go. I’m ready to settle the score. Get ready ‘cause this is war’). It discredits the band and the political punk sound they’re aiming for. Like the friend we all have who watches a couple of Michael Moore documentaries and votes in an election, their knowledge, grasp, and comprehension of current affairs are basic at best and this is made abundantly clear in their words (I’m getting sick of hypocrites saying nothing/Got a feeling that I don’t belong/And you seem to feel like it’s alright). It’s like the band made a pact not to produce tracks purely about the highs and lows of growing up and instead flippantly aimed to appeal to a more partisan demographic, but those fans are listening to the likes of NOFX, The Distillers, and Anti-Flag who know their shit and aren’t afraid to go against traditional song-writing conventions.
I would liken Sum 41’s entire discography to a soap opera like Days of our Lives or The Bold and the Beautiful in that you could not listen to the music for years and not keep track of we’re they’re at, but pick up a new album years later, listen to it, and be completely caught up with no need to revise their previous albums (or, for the sake of this analogy, ‘episodes’). You have to wonder if fame hit the boys too early – if, perhaps, the build-up and hype surrounding the band during their In Too Deep and Fat Lip days is what prevented them from really lifting as a musical collective and reaching the heights I (and thousands of other fans, I’m sure) always hoped they would.
Sum 41 has been around for nearly two decades and where their early pop-punk alumni like Simple Plan and Good Charlotte have either settled down or moved into other ventures, the boys from Sum 41 have continued producing and releasing records at regular intervals. Their efforts are admired, but their output is not. I’ve always said I’m happy to be ruthless once I’ve been fair. And I’ve been fair with Sum 41 for far too long.