Sound — 6
It's been fourteen years since Good Charlotte became the next pop punk flavor of the month in the emo subculture of the noughties with their quintessential album, "The Young and the Hopeless." That apex would come and go for the band fairly quickly, however, for two reasons: 1. They wanted to reach for more than just making pop punk music, and 2. This aspiration consequently led to an elongated period of aimless experimentation. With 2004's "The Chronicles of Life and Death" starting to dabble in orchestral elements, new wave and R&B, 2007's "Good Morning Revival" took a leap away from pop punk and into a bizarre mishmash of styles, spanning from attempts at ska and gothic rock to songs that sounded like rip-offs of Coldplay, Bruce Springsteen, and Bloodhound Gang. Good Charlotte reined things in somewhat come their fifth album, 2010's "Cardiology," but its varied offering of dance rock, hard rock and pop still came off as indecisive spitballing of how Good Charlotte should sound like next.
Now emerging from the hiatus they took shortly after the release of "Cardiology," Good Charlotte's comeback album, "Youth Authority," first and foremost makes an effort to establish a cohesive pop punk/pop rock style throughout. With appeals back to their golden-years brand of pop punk in the upbeat opener "Life Changes," the halftime bounce of "Makeshift Love" and "The Outfield," John Feldmann's role as producer improves upon the layers and harmonies of Joel Madden's vocals significantly, though the vocal processing has also noticeably increased. And in similar fashion to Feldmann's other pop-driven production jobs, plenty of songs are donned with too many bells in whistles, heard in the overstuffed "40 oz. Dream," "Stray Dogs" and "Moving On."
In the face of this shiny production value, though, "Youth Authority" incorporates a heavy usage of acoustic guitar. Along with being a good songwriting anchor throughout most of the album, the humble and organic melodies they lead off in "Reason to Stay," "Cars Full of People" and "War" build into effective (albeit arena rocky) crests later on. Though again, the impulse to tack on more than necessary comes in the other form of aggrandized orchestral melodies, and the string sections heard in "Keep Swingin'," "Reason to Stay," the hint-of-Postal Service interlude "Stick to Your Guns" and "Cars Full of People" only manage to be gaudy embellishment.
Lyrics — 7
While at face value, Joel Madden's lyrics in "Youth Authority" tend to the same phases of love covered in "Cardiology" - spanning from the contentious "Makeshift Love" and the bargaining-by-a-thread "Reason to Stay" to the more positive bouts of relationship resilience in "Life Can't Get Much Better" and the shared rough past of "The Outfield" - plenty of lines can easily be interpreted as self-commentary to the state of Good Charlotte. Much of this refers to their own comeback, whether in "Life Changes" ("You know they say nothing lasts forever / You know they said we'd never stay together") or "Keep Swingin'" ("'Cause we've been gone a while but now we're here to stay"), but they also come to grips with the troubled past of their discography - both doubling-down on their decision for such a wild direction in "Cars Full of People" ("They said we were lost, that we had no future / But you said hold on, and we stayed together / These cars full of people, they'll never know what we're about") but also hoping it can be considered water under the bridge in "Moving On" ("Celebrate us when we're gone / And forget what we did wrong / All the memories, all the songs").
Overall Impression — 7
With their hiatus acting as an elongated reset period for the band, Good Charlotte's return with "Youth Authority" is more than just a reboot to the sound they began with. The general arena-intended pop rock style that they update themselves to is a predictable direction that's not the most cutting-edge, but it's a direction that's sufficiently executed, and given their previous albums of troubled, plate-spinning experimentation, "Youth Authority" succeeds for its focus.