Top critical review
Return to from? Somewhat but not quite.
on 21 August 2012
Along with Overkill's Electric Age, this is another album that I have struggled to review. However, the context is slightly different. While I love my punk and hardcore, I have always gone for the more classic sound rather than the later melodic hardcore style. Therefore, while I've enjoyed much of Pennywise's back catalogue, it has only been with a passing interest and not as an avid fan. I think it's fair to let people know this before they read on.
The earlier Pennywise stuff was simple, direct, rabble-rousing sing-along hardcore. It relied heavily on Bad Religion and Dag Nasty and was not at all adventurous but who cares? Solid stuff that would drive any decent punk wild when played live. The band slowly began to change - to grow up, I suppose is one way to put it - and their sound developed into something more subdued and less catchy. Loyalists, as they do with all bands that change (Offspring, AFI, Green Day as more commercial and, arguably, extreme examples), excused the changes and found something to take from the music; the rest of us sort-of switched off. And then, out of nowhere, Jim decided to quit on vocals and some shows were played before Zoli of Ignite was brought in. I was intrigued, even excited. Ignite have released some great hardcore albums and Zoli is a more varied vocalist and (I thought) a good lyricist. The songs heard prior to purchase sounded promising (one great, one okay). I saw it cheap in a shop and I thought 'why not?'
So, what's it like then? Musically, it is the return to form that any reasonable person could hope for. The band are older, wiser and their most intense days are gone. However, there are plenty of good riffs and sing-along catchy moments on the album. It's true to the old sound but it's hitting the ground running ten years on. It's not their best album music-wise but it's competitive. However, the songs suffer from a horrible attempt at lyrics. Jim was a solid lyricist, fairly generic but never cheesy, generally sincere. Zoli, like I said has written some interesting and strong stuff lyrically with Ignite. So, initially I was shocked at the poor quality of the lyrics. How did this happen? Easy answer: the lyrics weren't written by him. I guess he joined the band after they had the music and lyrics already written. The result is an album filled with cliched themes ('Revolution') and corny rhymes ("We'll never know until we try/The time is now it's all or nothing/We are alive, it's do or die/We must believe it's all or nothing"). Wrapped in the softer vocals, it all grates a bit - Stand Strong as a prime example, catchy but irritating as hell.
In conclusion then, the music would probably merit four stars and could have been boosted by a superior lyrical content to even a theoretical full five. However, the lyrics being so uninspired actually draws away from the music. I've had this album for a few months and while my initial response was positive, my overall feelings are of dissatisfaction. It will do the loyalists and it may convert a few that were lost on the way but this is not the new Pennywise classic that some have claimed it or hoped it to be.