Sum 41 – Does this look infected? (Island/Def Jam)

sum-41-infectedJust a glance at song titles and Misfits-esque cover art is enough to suggest that Sum 41 are trying to shed the pop punk poppet image exploited in promotion of their last record. The music’s heavier, sure, but the guitars are so overdriven and overproduced that there’s no menace or danger in them, or even any fun. And too many times, the songs go for the easy pop-punk chorus-by-the-numbers.

“The Hell Song” and “Over my Head” each start out with decent, if unoriginal, riffs, but fall victim to the simple chorus routine — “take it up an octave, dude.” “No Brains” is an exception. The guitars fly through open-string speed metal chugging and furious punk power chording and Derek’s voice blasts apathy and boredom snuggly within the riffs. Though the song isn’t their hookiest, maybe its blend of metal and punk is the course Sum 41 need to chart.

“All Messed Up” could be Green Day in 1994. “Mr Amsterdam” with its call-and-response of Derek’s melody and another vocalist’s screams along with its metal riffing is a blatant ripoff of a hardcore subgenre that Sum 41 would be laughed right out of. Their performance is on the money but… it just doesn’t sound like them.

Far be it for us to pigeonhole a band, but when you make two records that pretty precisely follow the template for major-label pop-“punk,” then I think we’ve got the right to raise our eyebrows when you go and appropriate a new sound. It’s in “Thanks for Nothing” that we get a better representation of the band. Pop-punk riff leads to snotty white-boy “rap” lines (though nothing as jokey as the single off that last album) which lead to up-and-down chorus and serious metal guitars. “This is who we are and nothing’s going change,” they sing and it seems to sum it up.

“Hyper-Insomnia-Para-Condrioid” and “Billy Spleen” do a good job at blending their newfound heaviness with their old talent for songcraft. It’s the laborious “Hooch” that closes the album and leaves the eyebrows raised. Frustrated punk wails lead into metal solos and crooned coda.

Without getting too deep in it, I’d suggest that one of the reasons that punk music succeeds so wonderfully as pop music is its directness. Three chords and a girl is all the Beatles had in the early days. And three chords and a social problem is all the blues singers had. Punk rock had the same and that why it’s become a marketable style in addition to a thriving underground scene. Sum 41’s desire to shed their puerile skin is admirable but complicating their songcraft may not be the best way to do it. I’m left without hooks to sing or emotions to feel. Fans of the band may like the new direction, but it might be the next album before it all starts to click.

–TA