Pop-punk exists in a weird place in the musical landscape. It’s a genre perfectly tailored for 13- to 18-year-olds. It offers a dash of the rebellious spirit of punk, while not forcing the listener to wholeheartedly adopt a punk worldview. It has a sonic edge but maintains distant (or in some cases direct) melodic ties to the sugary pop many children grow up on.
And those are the things that made Sum 41’s platinum-selling breakout album All Killer, No Filler a perfect pop-punk record. Armed with melodic riffs, bratty vocals and the pseudo rap-punk hit “Fat Lip,” the album rips through 13 tracks about girls, summer, girls, lack of motivation, girls and the sheer difficulty of waking up in the morning. Yes, those are simplistic messages, but when delivered with some hooky power chords it was able to make a legion of teens (myself included) collectively think, “This music gets me! I think about girls too much and have a really hard time getting out of bed!”
Sum 41 is currently touring to mark the 10th anniversary of All Killer, No Filler’s not-too-shabby follow-up Does This Look Infected? — and I’m rather giddy about it. But, for a lot of reasons, it feels a bit anachronistic to be celebrating such a landmark.
Because pop-punk has a built-in target audience, the genre is set up to stand the test of time on a macro level. But to stay relevant, it must constantly discard its old parts for new pieces on a micro level. This goes for both for the bands and the fans.
The idea of old pop-punks doesn’t quite feel right. And so older pop-punk groups attempt minor reinvention to make their music more “adult.” Most fail miserably. But Sum 41 has done an admirable job in this regard, leaning more toward hard rock on 2004’s Chuck, which earned the band a Juno Award (aka Canadian Grammy) for Rock Album of the Year. While they’re not finding a level of success near All Killer, No Filler, they’re still surviving.
But when it comes to the fans, pop-punk is, arguably, the only rock genre that most everyone grows out of. Personally, I began to stop following pop-punk around the time I set off for college. It wasn’t a conscious decision, more a reflection of a feeling that I was losing touch. Every year’s Warped Tour lineup included less and less familiar names and since my peers were similarly growing out of it, I wasn’t actively being exposed to the upstart bands. So even as a Sum 41 fan, I never got around to picking up 2007’s Underclass Hero or 2011’s Screaming Bloody Murder. It wasn’t a conscious rejection of the band, it was more that the thought didn’t even cross my mind. Sum 41 was suddenly hidden behind a door that I forgot existed and had long since lost the key to.
As an adult, I tried to keep that connection to the pop-punk world — only to feel further alienated by it. When going to see Bowling for Soup at The Big Easy (now the Knitting Factory), it quickly became clear that I had to be one of the few souls on the floor who could even legally possess a driver’s license. The fans were all young and tiny, and when they started gleefully moshing during the piano-pop opening act, the band’s frontman literally had to stop and scold them, declaring, “This isn’t a D.K. show.” His efforts were futile: if you have to tell kids to stop moshing to piano ballads, Dead Kennedys references are probably going to be miles over their heads. I could feel the disconnect.
There are bands that make me cringe when I recall my youthful, devoted fandom (Simple Plan and Good Charlotte come to mind). But Sum 41 is not one of those bands. I can still listen back and genuinely enjoy the tunes, colored by my junior high hijinks and the mindset that accompanied my hearing “Fat Lip” for the first time.
The 14-year-old core of me is frickin’ stoked to see Sum 41 live for the first time, but my 25-year-old exoskeleton is also excited. While it seems we grow out of pop-punk, we don’t have to grow out of the bands we loved. Scratch that — love. They still speak to me now: I still have a really hard time getting out of bed.
Sum 41 with IAmDynamite and Hunter Valentine • Mon, Jan. 21 at 7:30 pm • Knitting Factory • $21 • All-ages • ticketfly.com • 244-3279