Growing up is a sneaking thing. You go from two bottles of Mt. Dew a day to drinking coffee, your friends start getting engaged instead of breaking up every few weeks, the acne finally slacks off, and no, dammit, I can’t go out tonight because I work tomorrow. At other times, singular statements can make you feel old.
To wit: Sum 41 has been around for a decade.
Perhaps “survived” is a better phrase. Sum 41’s origins are in the pop-punk heyday of the early 00’s, and they’ve gone on a zigzag of a career. After being “like blink-182, but with guitar solos” for three albums, the band released Chuck, their most promising album to date. The loss of one guitarist and a marriage to Avril Lavinge later came Underclass Hero, a return to pop-punk that wanted to be important, but was really a poor man’s The Black Parade, and an even poorer man’s American Idiot.
The four years between Underclass Hero and Screaming Bloody Murder make up the longest gap between Sum 41 releases. Using opener “Reason to Believe” as evidence, the group’s come up with lots of ideas during the interim; the song begins with Chuck style distorted guitars, left turns into a punk chorus, and then throws the brakes for a piano and acoustic guitar outro. The title track turns that outro into an intro before becoming a pretty decent rock out track, complete with a breakdown and furious guitar solo. All of this comes through loud and clear, because the production values for this record are stellar.
Screaming Bloody Murder‘s sonic blueprint is a mix of Chuck and Underclass Hero; metal-bent punk rock as a default with some experimentation/imitation tossed in for variety. Not a bad idea on paper, but it essentially translates to “muted intro, let the rest of the band in, throw the two ideas at each other, and end”, leading to overstuffed and under-thought song structures. It works best when the band commits one way or the other; while middle songs like “Sick of Everyone” and “Skumfuk” are interesting but wholly unnecessary.
And it’s those songs that end up sinking the album. In a classic case of “ambition vs. execution”, Screaming Bloody Murder‘s biggest dealbreaker is arguably its length; 48 minutes is taxing on a band that starts feeling stretched past the half-hour point. I can’t really blame the band for wanting to experiment, but at the same time, you’ve gotta rein it in, otherwise…well, you get Screaming Bloody Murder.
Not to say that the experimentation doesn’t pay off. The drama of “Holy Image of Lies” absolutely rocks, and as mentioned, the genre roulette of “Reason to Believe” gets the record started on an exciting note. While there are shadows of frontman Deryck Whibley’s divorce from Avril Lavinge all over, no track handles them as directly nor as well as “Crash”, a genuinely affecting piano ballad that begs to duet with some of the better songs off Goodbye Lullaby.
Then there are times where Sum 41 gets in full rock band mode. The best of these–if not the best on the album–is “Jessica Kill”, which sounds like classic Sum 41 (wow, there’s a phrase I thought I’d never use). “Back Where I Belong” thrashes, but is best taken out of the context of the album, where it isn’t weighed down by being so far along. The band falls flat in other places; “Time For You To Go” wants to be Green Day so bad it hurts, and “Baby You Don’t Wanna Go”‘s classic rock posturing is only amusing on the first listen.
The amount of enjoyment you’ll get out of Screaming Bloody Murder is directly proportionate to how much you like Sum 41. If you’re already a dedicated fan, then you’ll find plenty to love. If you wrote these guys off already, then it isn’t likely that anything is going to change that, 3/5 stars.
tl;dr: Lotta killer, some filler, 3/5 stars.