Pop punk. What does it mean to you? Well, depending on your age, it has come to be that it can mean almost anything. These days, the term ‘pop punk’ seems to be music that involves a guitar and a relatively fast tempo. Throw in some catchy melodies and you’re even closer to the genre, which over time has become an indefinable mix of alternative, emo, hardcore, and even electronic desires. Yet as time goes on, I find myself to absolutely despise new bands that deem themselves pop punk, and here’s why…
It’s hard to point fingers when a genre is so hard to pin down. At one point even Tom Petty was labeled pop punk (seriously), but the term really took hold when Green Day came on the scene in the early 90s. As the hyper younger brother of grunge, pop punk solidified a place in teenagers’ minds with lighthearted fare about love, loss, angst, and thinly veiled masturbation references. The world seemed to be a better place back then, and at the ripe old age of 23, I must say that it indeed was. Then emo came.
The emotional hardcore scene that actually wasn’t terrible in the late 80s and early 90s evolved into a whiny beast that couldn’t stand its parents, was okay with crying, and wanted you to feel sorry for it. It called itself pop punk and all was lost. Fun bands like the Offspring, MxPx, New Found Glory, Blink 182, Green Day, and to a lesser extent Rancid, Sublime, and Sum41 were no longer in the majority. Instead, Fall Out Boy, All-American Rejects, My Chemical Romance, Good Charlotte, and Simple Plan rose to alternative prominence. But do you want to know a secret? For the most part, I liked all those bands (except Simple Plan, of course). They weren’t bad musicians, their songs were catchy, and they didn’t whine that much. The problem, unfortunately, was in the bands that copied and diverged from that path.
All of a sudden the Early November, All Time Low, the Starting Line, and countless others took to playing a depressing blend of whiny lyrics mixed with dissonant guitar that ultimately wasn’t very appealing to anybody over 15. There weren’t hooks, but the guys were cute so the girls ate it up, forcing their boys to dress appropriately and act ridiculous to gain approval. This went on for ten years, and if you zoned out like every one over 20 did, the result is even more depressing now. Skinny dudes whine their hearts out to 14 year olds and I shudder to think what they do after shows (other than work to peel off super tight jeans, which of course are their own). The state of modern ‘pop punk’ is a sad affair indeed, and a band like The Great Valley just further cements that fact in my mind.
As it was not my intention for this to become a rant, I must admit that this has indeed become just that. I feel bad, because as someone who writes music, I always try to find redeemable qualities in things I listen to. I then try to balance these qualities against the overall feeling the music gives me, which usually leaves me at least close to having a positive outlook. While the overall feeling that Ruthless gives me is pretty disappointing, there are some redeemable qualities, though they don’t come close to pushing me out of the negative. Brothers Louis and Nick Matos can sing, and they sound pretty good when they aren’t whining or cursing. Additionally, the record sounds professional and has a crisp modern feel to it. And I will say that the song structures are well done and not as drawn out as some bands tend to lean toward. So these are the good things I found, and hopefully will make the band not completely hate me. Now, on to the problems.
“There is not a lot of fun on this record.” This line was originally not in quotations, but I felt like an asshole when I wrote it so I went back and listened to the LP again to make sure I wasn’t being unfair or biased. Sadly, it still rings true, and as of right now I’ve listened to these eight songs four times through and I can’t remember one real hook. The only thing I remember is the title “Wrecking Ball,” and that song’s not even on the album. Nothing stuck. Nada. Zip.
I think it partly comes down to the song topics on The Great Valley that end up bogging it down so much. There’s so much angst and not enough joy running through the songs. The Academy Is… mixed with Four Year Strong and Fall Out Boy is all I hear, and each of those groups do this schtick better. Then there’s the cursing. I think there’s swearing in every song, and even in a few choruses. If you are not Cee Lo Green, you should know better ways to reach your audience.
Overall, everything on this record simply comes out generic to my ears. And for ears that have heard every type of music out there and then some, that’s saying something. But there’s no doubt that 15-year-olds will, as usual, eat this up and make small stars out of the band. Then they’ll grow up and look back with nostalgia on the genre, just like how I look a ska now. At least ska was supposed to be fun…
(By some god given coincidence, the next song in my iTunes just came on. It’s Green Day’s “Longview,” and I not only know every word, but listen with not nostalgia, but joy.)