Sound — 5
Prior to becoming one of the poster genres of emo subculture, pop punk was arguably an iteration of punk music appropriated for a bro-ish audience - evident in the jocular likes of Blink-182 (pre-self-titled era), Sum 41, and Goldfinger. Simple Plan was another successful proponent of this appropriation, and with the likes of Mark Hoppus and Joel Madden assisting in the band's debut album, 2002's "No Pads, No Helmets... Just Balls," Simple Plan rose quickly in the pop punk ranks, and both that album and their follow-up album, 2004's "Still Not Getting Any...," went platinum.
After this point, however, trendy emo punk bands like Fall Out Boy, All Time Low and Paramore had taken the spotlight, and Simple Plan reacted by deviating from their standard pop punk style. Their self-titled 2008 album, intended as a reinvention of sorts, showed the band dabbling with other pop music styles like contemporary hip-hop and R&B, as well as indulging in more piano and string sections; ultimately, though, this change in sound was panned by many. Simple Plan still continued in this direction, with their fourth album, 2011's "Get Your Heart On!," using even more synthesizers and shiny production value overall, and even though it also brought forth some reputable guest appearances like Weezer's Rivers Cuomo and All Time Low's Alex Gaskarth, the album still garnered mixed reception at best.
Now on their fifth album, "Taking One for the Team," Simple Plan are still trying to find a suitable balance between keeping their classic pop punk style intact and exploring new sounds. The former aspect is expectedly easier for the band to get a grasp on and easily seen as the stronger half of the album. By moving away from the emphasized production value heard in their previous album, Simple Plan let the instruments and the raw energy speak for itself, demonstrated in the opening "Opinion Overload," the double-time pep of "I Refuse," and the good basslines in "Boom!" and "Kissing Me Like Nobody's Watching." Lead guitarist Jeff Stinco also tries to up his game with some skillful guitar parts, and while the small solo in the pop rock cut of "Everything Sucks" is short and sweet, his "Thunderstruck"-derived tapping melody in "Nostalgic" is superfluous.
With the pop punk output generally being strong, the other half of "Taking One for the Team" is a continuation of Simple Plan's awkward journey outside of pop punk, which not only continues to clash with the band's appeal to their classic style, but continues to be a clambering effort. Some of these attempts are just retries of old ideas, like the final R&B cut "I Dream About You" being the same as the "Simple Plan" song "Your Love Is a Lie," or the lighter-waving pop rock ballad of "Problem Child" being similar as the "Get Your Heart On!" song "This Song Saved My Life." As for the new efforts of branching out, it's easy to spot the stylistic coattails that Simple Plan are riding on, such as the Jason Mraz-ish pop folk style of "Singing in the Rain," the pop rock/showtunes pomp of "I Don't Wanna Be Sad" sounding like a pastiche of current-era Panic! At The Disco, and the funk revival cut of "I Don't Wanna Go to Bed" being a trend ripple from Mark Ronson's ubiquitous pop hit "Uptown Funk."
Lyrics — 6
While Simple Plan are still wavering between past strengths and future prospects in their sound, frontman Pierre Bouvier's lyrics in "Taking One for the Team" are as familiar as can be. It's reached a point where he's repeating the same kind of messages, like the "take your critique and shove it" message of "Opinion Overload" being the same as the "Still Not Getting Any..." song "Shut Up," and the "I'll be what I want to be" message of "I Refuse" being the same as "Me Against the World." And like nearly every other album, the majority of Bouvier's lyrics are embedded in his perpetual cycle of love and loss - spanning from the romantic reverence of "Boom!," "Kissing Me Like Nobody's Watching" and "Perfectly Perfect," to the relationship death knell of "Farewell" which arcs into the post-breakup depression and angst of "Everything Sucks," "Nostalgic" and "P.S. I Hate You."
Even though the themes are common and constant to a point of being static, Bouvier still puts some effort into growing as a lyricist, and he manages to pair songs together with connecting, interdependent themes. The sunny, ardent optimism of "Singing in the Rain" later gets turned on its head in the hopeless quest for happiness in "I Don't Want to Be Sad" (though the mission of beating sadness remains the same), and the plea for physical reconnection in "I Don't Wanna Go to Bed" gets a more substantial juxtaposition of clinging to past emotions in "I Dream About You," where the former sentiment of "I don't wanna go to bed without you" takes the same emotional pining and contrasts it with the inability to move on ("No I never want to wake up / I dream about you").
Overall Impression — 5
Like Simple Plan's last two albums, "Taking One for the Team" contains a contrasting mentality between basking in the band's pop punk past and attempting to write an eclectically-styled future, and its mix clashes with itself more than it complements itself. With the genre-experimenting side of the album being shameless trend-grabbing pop efforts in the same vein as Imagine Dragons, the pop punk side of the album is certainly more enjoyable, but unfortunately for the band, not enough to carry the album as a whole.