Sound — 8
Sum 41's "All Killer, No Filler", "Does This Look Infected?" and, to a lesser extent, "Half Hour of Power" defined many a youngster's musical tastes. While that may seem ridiculous to some, it's hard to deny the appeal of the infectious tracks and massive hooks that characterised these albums. These were then followed up by the 2004 release of "Chuck", which was sprinkled with an assortment of heavy metal-flavoured garnishes and spices. Now with the release of "Underclass Hero", the band's fifth album, the Sums have brought back the trademarks of their earlier efforts; simple yet effective song structures featuring ultra-melodic choruses played with "My First Guitar"-style pop-punk chords. One noticeable difference is the almost non-existence of solos throughout the durattion of the album, which is disappointing as it could be said that Sum 41's solos are what set them apart from other similar bands. This is most likely due to the departure of lead guitarist and main headbanger Dave Baksh (Brownsound/Hot Chocolate), who left on good terms to concentrate on his side-project, Brown Brigade. Despite this it's still refreshing to know that the band can still pen a catchy tune, even if it's nothing particularly innovative. Many will listen to the lead track Underclass Hero and simply shrug it off as a rip-off of one of their previous songs, Fat Lip. A better (and more accurate) way of looking at it is that it sounds like Sum 41 rather than Fat Lip. I'm sure many fans will be relieved to hear the familiar and comforting sound that Underclass Hero (the song and album) harks back to; I mean, everyone likes a slice of nostalgia pie once in a while don't they? Delve deeper into the album and you'll uncover many tracks as catchy as Underclass Hero, and many that deceptively take a while to build up but eventually end on a riotous note. Some songs even feature piano and orchestral sections; a first for the band. Less energetic songs such as "Dear Father", "With Me", "Best of Me" and "So Long Goodbye" offset the up-tempo songs nicely, although the track listing is such that the album never really develops a flow and tends to unnaturally jump from emotional ballad to mosh-pit punk. In a similar vein to the track listing, Whibley's vocals easily shift from melodic and poignant to rowdy and rebellious with ease, and have really evolved from the early days of "Half Hour of Power". In fact, with respect for Cone and Stevo, it seems that Derryck Whibley has turned Sum 41 into his own solo project; he's the singer, guitarist, lyricist, producer, and rather than depicting all three band members on the cover, it's Whibley all on his lonesome.
Lyrics — 9
Back in the day (which, interestingly, was a Wednesday), Sum 41 were known as much for their catchy, hooky songs as they were for their immature teenage humour, especially in their videos. The release of "Chuck" changed all that, as it was generally more political and was a sign that the young boys had matured, much the same way Green Day progressed from "Dookie" to "American Idiot". While the sound of "Underclass Hero" takes us back to an earlier time, the overriding political theme that permeates the lyrics still continues from the previous album. Whibley has climbed aboard the overpopulated Bash-Bush bandwagon with anthemic anti-government, umm, anthems such as "The Jester", "March of the Dogs" and of course "Underclass Hero." Although not inspiring me to lead a coup de tat against the various administrations around the world, the lyrics are admittedly very well written. "The Jester" refers to the situation in Iraq with lines such as "An eye for an eye will leave us all blind", while Whibley tells us just what he things of old George Dubya in "King of Contradiction" with lyrics such as "You're replaced now/Was nice to know you/Now your time is up so/Just drop dead." It isn't all guns and governments though; the deadbeat-dad lamentation "Dear Father" is a tender and profound little ditty, as are "With Me" and "Best of Me", both of which were clearly written with his new wife Avril Lavigne in mind.
Overall Impression — 8
All in all, "Underclass Hero" is exactly the album that fans were expecting and wanting. Rather than aspiring to be exceptionally innovative or groundbreaking, Sum 41 have decided to aim at pleasing a wide range of listeners, and in a way they've managed to pull this off. It takes us on a journey back to the pop-punk days of old while at the same time exhibits a lyrical and musical maturity. Underclass Hero as an album is very powerful, strong and qualitative not just in it's execution, but it's production as well. Listening to "Dear Father", "Walking Disaster" or "March of the Dogs", you can't help but think that these songs just couldn't be better. Everyone who is in love with pop punk will be overjoyed with Sum 41's latest collaboration. However if you were hoping that Sum 41 would continue on in the tradition of "Chuck" you'll probably be greeted with an air of disappointment when you break open the seal.