Sum 41 - Underclass Hero
Bruce Turnbull 03/09/2007
If I'm one of the only people glad to see Sum 41 alive and kicking, I wouldn't be surprised. Practically alienating their entire fan base by sliding every so often into Bay Area thrash or harmony-based traditional metal, the Toronto four piece weren't exactly afraid to wear their influences on their sleeves, and with the album that by all means should have been their swansong - 2004's “Chuck” - these elements were pushed ever further until the boundaries were tangibly defunct. Personally, I found this overall progression an endearing quality to the band's often overlooked character, but it seemed the pop-punk fans of old hadn't matured, unlike the band itself. Not being a particular fan of the genre, I still believed Sum 41 to be one of the most inventive and infectious members of the pop-punk party, although not rivalling the likes of Blink 182 and Guttermouth. Despite a rather long lay off and the departure of founding guitarist Dave 'Brownsound' Baksh, Sum 41 have returned as a trio, with vocalist/guitarist Deryck Whibley taking charge of songwriting, production and arrangements. Does “Underclass Hero” benefit from Whibley's solo concentration? Sort of.
The good news is that the production is about as smooth and slick as it gets, making the clean cut melodies really stand out, as they venture into the increasingly contagious. Concentrating on a very commercial aspect, “Underclass Hero” consists of 15 top rate melodic pop-punk songs that capture every nuance of the genre, blending together the guitar work of Green Day, the melodies of Blink 182 and the attitude of The Offspring. But without the metal background Dave Baksh dressed the tracks with, the album remains incredibly one dimensional, without any real deviance from the stereotype they perform so aptly. Saying that, Whibley can certainly pen a catchy tune, but the majority of this release is pilfered from others; just check out the “Adam's Song” vocal line branded straight into the tumult of “Walking Disaster”, the “Warning” like gait of “The Jester” or even the “Fat Lip” rehashing on the opening title track. With the only standout track being the furious “Speak of the Devil”, “Underclass Hero” is a missed opportunity in my opinion, one that could have been rectified simply by sticking to their guns, and producing an album that could have possibly been on the verge of creating a new sub-genre, rather than pandering to a frankly overpopulated one.