'Generation Rx'- Good Charlotte / Turned Up Louder
After a career spanning more than 20 years, within which you have penned some of the most iconic punk rock tracks of a generation, any band would be hard pressed to strike out and explore a new avenue, yet somehow, punk rock mavericks and one of the members of the American-Pie-cohort, Good Charlotte, have miraculously done just that with their latest release ‘Generation Rx’.
A stark departure from their uncensored, no-holds barred, endearingly-scrappy origins, the opening of this record is heralded by the ethereal vocals and delicate dripping xylophone of the title track, somewhat reminiscent of the introduction of the 90-second long instrumental ‘A New Beginning’ which opens the band’s multiplatinum 2002 record ‘The Young and the Hopeless’. In a similar vein, the same spirit that fuelled Good Charlotte in their infancy remains buried beneath the delicacy- amplifying the voices of a disillusioned generation, albeit in a cooler, more streamlined and calmly enticing way than in their previous releases.
With the introduction of the opening guitars of ‘Self Help’ the pace builds rapidly creating a small audio G-force, showing that Good Charlotte haven’t totally abandoned their roots just yet! Yet despite the rousing guitar line, one gets the strong sense that this is a reflected image of their younger years through the band’s own mature eyes. The track is far more streamlined than their spirited earlier records, with a low grumbling bassline overtured by driving guitars that disguise the sobering lyrics in a lively, almost-danceable chorus created by the midi sounds that fill out the backing. Many of the tracks on the record lack the endearing punk grit that many fans crave- recent single ‘Shadowboxer’ is built on a soaring expanse of orchestral melody that roils and rocks, which is at times cut through by an insistent lead guitar to add some intrigue to the mix. The track does boast a massive arena-shaking classic rock chorus, yet the passion of the strained vocals buried deep in the mix only rises to prominence in the song’s closing seconds: a promise of a danger that doesn’t seem to quite break the surface.
Promises undelivered upon is sadly a common theme throughout the record: on perhaps the most haunting track on the record, the sobering crackled voice recordings that bookend ‘Better Demons’ perpetuate a dark, moody atmosphere that laces the track with a promising depth that then painfully dissipates like a frail wisp of smoke with the introduction of the vocal line. The old, powerful guitars make a return on ‘Leech’, and while it is deeper and more full-bodied than much of the record and packed with delightfully crunchy effects, it all feels too sanitised, too clean and grown up. The guest vocals from Architects’ Sam Carter add a lick of venom that the song craves, however the relentlessly mid-tempo pace detracts from the track’s angst and bite.
While the fire fuelling the record may leave something to be desired, lyrically the album is laced with some of the Madden brothers’ most resonant work. Lead single ‘Actual Pain’ speaks of a smothering cloud of stigmatised mental health issues, as the lyrics mould themselves around the pounding, heartbeat-esque drums and cinematic strings. The infinitely topical ‘Prayers’ tackles the tragedy of school shootings, defying insincerity and the insignificance of baseless well wishes in the face of disaster. Lyrically, the song shines, conveying poignantly the feeling of powerlessness shared by all in the face of tragedy, and proving beyond doubt that despite the evolution in their sound, Good Charlotte are still a band connected with the sufferings of real people and unafraid of presenting a politically charged message in their music. Perhaps the most powerfully resonant song on the record, however, is the emotionally charged gem ‘Cold Song’. Frontman Joel Madden’s vocals are uninhibited by vocal effects and the rawness is infinitely more powerful- the track feels intimate even though the scale of the chorus is huge, with a single lonesome guitar showcased over grandiose orchestral strings.
Like light breaking on a new day, the album’s uplifting closer ‘California (The Way I Say I Love You)’ feels like a single, solitary pearl amongst a handful of smooth beads of onyx: a romantic ode to the love of a lifetime that feels fuller and created of more substance than earlier tracks despite being lighter and more effervescent than much of the record- a pleasant change of pace that demonstrates that Good Charlotte are a band who always have one more trick hidden up their sleeves.
Overall, ‘Generation Rx’ feels like a real pick-and-mix of a record- a sensation that perhaps reflects the chaotic, uncertain environment from which it was created. That lack of driving force throughout the record means that, while in isolation, these tracks will provide a welcome change of pace amongst the classics in an arena-busting live set, in its entirety this album leaves something to be desired. As bands change and their sound evolves, their progression doesn’t always resonate with their original fanbase in quite the same way, and this record feels like a reflection on the band’s younger years through older eyes. Yet sadly, this record appears to be missing the raw fire and untameable, rebellious punk grit that propelled Good Charlotte to stardom almost two decades ago, and it suffers as a consequence. ‘Generation Rx’, while it does blend powerful lyricism with grand orchestral sequences, cannot eclipse the impact of the unapologetic punk rock anthems of old which continue to be what carries Good Charlotte’s name into the punk rock history books.
'Generation Rx' is out September 14th on MDDN / BMG. Watch the new video for 'Prayers' below:
Good Charlotte are touring the US this October and November in support of 'Generation Rx'. Dates can be found below:
Connect with Good Charlotte on Twitter: @goodcharlotte
Connect with Good Charlotte via their website: www.goodcharlotte.com