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Blink-182

For about six years beginning in the late ’90s, Blink-182 were the snottiest, most puerile trio to emerge from the wake of Nirvana’s and, by proxy, Green Day’s punk kerplunk, whining about “All the Small Things” and asking “What’s My Age Again?” on MTV. They seemed unstoppable—at least until Good Charlotte came along and ruined everything for everyone. They’ve since broken up and reunited, and tonight, they’re giving back, playing a 9/11 charity show. I guess this is growing up.

Wed., Sept. 11, 8 p.m., 2013

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Good Charlotte

It has been a decade since snotty pop-punk marionettes Good Charlotte first ruled (and arguably killed) MTV. Somehow, despite emo rendering pop-punk commercially obsolete, they’ve managed to maintain their traction and most of their original lineup, even scoring a platinum single in 2007. Now, as most of their pop-punk peers seem to have fallen by the wayside–be it taking up writing Broadway musicals or hosting shows on Fuse–Good Charlotte are still trying to live out their “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” Their future is in your hands. With Forever the Sickest Kids and This Century.

Tue., March 8, 6 p.m., 2011

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Errant Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

Did you hear? Benji Madden is engaged to Sophie Monk, and Joel Madden dumped Hilary Duff after two years and is now with Nicole Richie. You know what they say about twins! They always have more fun, and the Madden brothers are the pop-punk version of the Olsens. Ignoring the mishaps—like Joel caught on tape slapping a female photographer earlier this month—they should be having the time of their lives, right? So why does Good Charlotte sound so depressed on Good Morning Revival?

Lyrically, first single “The River” channels “Welcome to the Jungle,” just without the “Sha-na-na-na knees.” Musically, though, Good Charlotte borrow every emo chord progression and guitar riff of the last three years. Joel even contorts his voice to sound like Davey Havok’s from A.F.I. This is distant territory from 2002’s career-making The Young and the Hopeless; no longer young, the boys just sound hopeless. Second single “Keep Your Hands Off My Girl” namedrops Dior bags and Louis Vuitton while indulging an ugly misogynist streak: “I got a model, 26/But she stays in her place.” This isn’t new territory for Good Charlotte—one of their first hits featured the lyrics “Girls don’t like boys/Girls like cars and money.” But you used to be able to ignore it because it sounded like kids making a tasteless joke. Maybe they’d grow up. With their new emo-radio-hit sound, though, they sound angry and hateful. The cute punks grew up to be really scary jerks. Relationship advice? “The only way y’all ever keep her in your hands/Is breaking apart her heart.”

Good Charlotte’s sexism isn’t the insidious kind of alienation Jessica Hopper attributed to emo, but a darker, disturbing sentiment that indicates something is amiss in paradise. It’s hard not to see a connection between Good Charlotte’s public life and the title track: “I’m tired/Tired of running/Tired/Tired of waking/Tired . . . Keep your sadness alive.” Hilary Duff got out at a good time.

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Punkaroni

Eminem’s bratty nihilism cracker-jacked the Warped Tour punk party, so why can’t bling-punx Good Charlotte gaffle hip-hop’s business acumen? There’s branding via ugly apparel (their Hot Topic–adored MADE clothing line), branding via shitty vanity label (GC’s DC Flag label has a roster as dubious as Shady’s. Think Hazen Street : D12 :: Lola Ray : Obie Trice), and self-reflecting lyrics that incriminate and contradict (the title track claims “idiots” say “money talks,” while “I Just Wanna Live” petitions for a punker’s right to floss). It’s as if P. Diddy curated The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle—deft appropriationists Good Charlotte cop punk sub-movements like they’re new Kanye beats: jerking pop-punk in 2000, bawling an emo mega-hit in 2002, and now sporting a swass new goth sheen (though more Invader Zim than Bauhaus).

The upsides to punk-as-product niche marketing: 400-pound-gorilla bands record whatever they want, and if these triple-platinum gorillas want to mix martial Britneybeat, “Lose Yourself” phenome babble, Pharrell faux-soprano, and “Can’t Knock the Hustle” strutting (like on the claustrophobic “I Wanna Live”), they can stick a feather in their new raven cuts and call it punkaroni. Good Charlotte have hooks for days and the fun, gloomy Life and Death sounds like a moody missing link between Fountains of Wayne and Thrice. The downside to punk-as-product niche marketing: an insulting retail campaign. Epic released two versions, each with a different lame bonus track that not only sounds tacked on, but is tacked on. The Hot Topic wrist cuff crowd wants to blow allowance scrilla on its fave rave—but an essentially identical copy of the same record ain’t exactly a Partridge Fam lunch box. There’s even a third version sold exclusively at Target, featuring a live track of “The Anthem.” Good Charlotte spit on overblown celebrities with words, and spit on independent retail in deeds. They got mansions. Think we should rob them?

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Store Wars

In its first two weeks, Good Charlotte’s The Chronicles of Life and Death has sold more than 270,000 copies and totally pissed off a bunch of small record stores. The problem isn’t that it’s available in a “life version” and a “death version,” each with one song that’s not on the other; it’s that the copies sold at Target have yet another extra track, included on the CD and listed on the packaging.

Among independent retailers, this is known as a “superior product,” and they flip out when chains like Target or Best Buy offer one—not least because locally owned stores, which pay higher wholesale prices than chains and get more stringent billing terms, often don’t learn about it until they’ve already placed their orders. “We’re the ones that usually break those bands, and we have to find out about these things from our customers,” complains Lenny Sblendorio, manager of Vintage Vinyl in Fords, New Jersey. In retaliation for Epic Records giving Target an advantage with Good Charlotte, several large independent stores have taken recent releases by Franz Ferdinand, Modest Mouse, the Clash, and everything else on Epic off display for a few weeks.

“In our eyes,” says the Coalition of Independent Music Stores’ president Don Van Cleave, “it’s as if Barnes & Noble got a version of a book with more chapters than the independent booksellers’ version. If Epic had given Target a separate CD with 15 live tracks to sell with the album, we wouldn’t have said a word. But they put the song right on the CD itself, and that’s where we think it crosses the line.” A few other recent albums have been sold in longer versions at chains: In particular, indies objected to Further Seems Forever’s Hide Nothing and Atreyu’s The Curse, appearing with extra tracks at Best Buy.

CIMS doesn’t object to the increasingly common practice of albums being sold exclusively through a particular chain—they do the same thing, in fact. (Belle and Sebastian’s EP Books and John Mayer’s live album As/Is are among CIMS’s exclusives.) Van Cleave also reports that sales at independent record stores are significantly better this year than last, attributing the change to better releases, diversified inventory, and lower prices—and definitely not to the Recording Industry Association of America’s lawsuits against file sharers. “We think any industries that sue their customers are idiots,” he says bluntly.

This particular idiot industry sued another 762 of its customers on September 30. Nielsen SoundScan reported that overall album sales for the first nine months of 2004 are up 5.8 percent from the same period last year, and the RIAA recently announced that labels shipped over 10 percent more CDs to stores in the first half of this year than in the first half of 2003. Shipment figures, though, are not sales figures; the RIAA also notes that shipments of the top 50 albums are down 16.7 percent from 2001. Instead of pointing out that retail ordering has gotten more efficient, RIAA chairman Mitch Bainwol segues from those numbers to announcing that “thousands have lost their jobs” because of piracy—rather than, say, major-label mega-mergers.

The only obstacle to Big Music recently has been the U.S. Supreme Court. On October 12, it declined to hear the RIAA’s appeal in its lawsuit against Verizon over a provision of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act; as a result, the RIAA has to continue to file “John Doe” lawsuits against file sharers, instead of getting Internet service providers to turn over users’ names without judicial oversight. The same day, the Department of Justice’s intellectual property task force recommended, in John Ashcroft’s words, “the strongest, most aggressive legal assault against intellectual-property crime in our nation’s history”: criminalizing both file sharing and cracking protection software, and spending more money investigating the crime wave of teenagers downloading songs missing from Good Charlotte CDs.

Speaking of strong, aggressive types, last month Arnold Schwarzenegger officially ordered his chief information officer, J. Clark Kelso, to figure out how to restrict the use of peer-to-peer programs on California’s state-owned computers, as well as computers at state universities. Bainwol responded with a press release praising the governator for recognizing “that technologies can be hijacked to compromise sensitive governmental information and, more importantly, for illicit purposes that rob the creative community of its future.” Interesting use of “more importantly” there. The creative communitydoesn’t necessarily like Bainwol speaking for it, either. Above the FBI logo warning about unauthorized copying on the back cover of Elvis Costello’s new The Delivery Man, there’s another message: “This artist does not endorse the following warning. The F.B.I. doesn’t have his home phone number and he hopes that they don’t have yours.”

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Go Ahead, Kill Yourself

Teen suicide is regarded with romantic fascination. I read this carefully developed wisdom in a giant newspaper essay on pop music advances in home psychotherapy: In U.S.A. 2004, The Sorrows of Young Werther has been rewritten in the songs of legions of punk self-examiners. Although not quite the intellec-tual caliber of Goethe, teen punks, it is said, now have enhanced emotional range. This is empowering them as never before with the desire to reach out to one another in empathetically vibrating CDs and videos.

Take Good Charlotte. The band has reinvented Kix’s old suicide power ballad, “Don’t Close Your Eyes.” But this time they splice their hopeful tune, “Hold On,” with a public service announcement asking viewers to abjure killing themselves because it will upset family and acquaintances.

I called an expert, Iam “the Doctor” Ironbeard, who had written a paper, “Suicide—Cause for Concern,” for the Institute of the Mind at Twilli-willi-wit, and asked if “Hold On” was therapeutic. “Yes, no, maybe,” he said. Then I asked him if Fear’s Lee Ving, the nation’s king punk emeritus, would now be boycotted by screamos-n-emos (S&M’s, for short) for singing, “Let’s have a war, so you can go die!” “The Doctor” recalled how Ving had shouted, “We’re non-thera-pew-tic!” in a number about a double bill with the Angry Samoans at a Camarillo home for the mentally decrepit.

In any case, newspapers inform, it can’t be denied that today’s kids are more self-aware. Perhaps the new sensitivity stems from an extra chromosome located in the genetic supercoils, somewhere near the additional DNA coding for superior eye-hand coordination, extra-rapid-twitch video-game nerve-muscle fiber connections, and 10 percent more cerebrum because youngsters understand blogging better than everyone older than them.

Thursday’s War All the Time is alleged to be an example of the super-aware romantic delicacy in flower. This can be felt in the band’s lyric “We’ll douse ourselves in gasoline and hang our bodies from the lampposts so that our shadows turn into bright lights.” This is a line a contemporary Werther theoretically might write as he gets progressively more disturbed and desperate for his Lotte. But there’s a snag: Werther didn’t kill himself until the end of The Sorrows—not at the beginning, the middle, and all through the love-depression-suicide tale, like Thursday. War also suffers from “can’t remember any of the tunes because there aren’t any” disease.

The album has not inspired Werthermania—young men awakening to their plights and shooting themselves, left clutching papers filled with maxims and dressed in the clothing favored by their heroes. If the ancestral youths of Goethe’s time had even more soul-searing awareness, doesn’t that mean modern punks are devolving?

Yet it is a big brotherhood, equal to and indistinguishable from Thursday. Great for your You Provide Me With the Fatal Instruments, Precious Lotte mix CD, rock for a quivering neurasthenic collapse is delivered via Story of the Year’s “Until the Day I Die,” Taking Back Sunday’s “You’re So Last Summer,” Acceptance’s “Permanent,” Finger Eleven’s “One Thing,” and Brand New’s “Good to Know If I Need Attention All I Have to Do Is Die.”

Simple Plan are Werther punks, too, but Canadian. Instead of a sole obsession with Lotte, which is served in “Addicted,” their big musical push is in an apology to Daddy. This conflicts with the album cover of leg/foot fetishes and a game of spin-the-champagne-bottle with bridal party girls. While the Daddy song resonates with the distraught teen, too, what these guys are often caught implying is that they wish to be brides because Dad loved Sis more. In fact, their manically-sunny-but-my-heart’s-really-really-breaking-on-the-worst-day-ever and not-being-able-to-study-enough-for-tomorrow’s-test songs could just as well be sung by Katy Rose. With women now allowed on high school wrestling teams (another affront to the young man’s fragile psyche!), No Helmets, No Pads . . . Just Balls is a perfect title. Its fizzing guitar-girl pop shows Werther rock in touch with its silly feminine side and ready for star-time in a sequel to Ladybugs.

Meanwhile, Only Kids of Nothing Star by the two guys in Five Starcle Men has been released on the Net, with the band’s Web history claiming that one of the two killed himself a while ago. Eighty percent of it is cack—cheap software chitter and silicon noises—but the duo’s mythology indicates they were dextromethorphan punks, feeling the need to dull existential pain.

Two Nothing Star numbers are rhythmically compelling. One rips off Beck’s “Loser” riff; another has a harmonica sound and the chant “Pizza Hut families transcend spiritual reality.” However, because Five Starcle Men were downers, honestly horrid, and maybe nuts, they never made a video featuring the glum faces of dysfunctional boozer parents, stealthily corrosive friends, and assorted earnest-looking made-for-TV ringers.

Nope: no big role in feel-good media examinations recommending your stuff as mental Pepto-Bismol for the troubled. No 90 seconds on the Top 10 countdown, just before the hours of reality shows making entertainment of young people visiting a variety of public humiliations and cruel tricks on each other. No nothing. Irritating, isn’t it?


[In next week’s installment: Altie-pop rockers start fighting the plague of obesity raging through high schools with musical messages on eating only wholesome foods and how nationwide fatness is driving up health insurance premiums.]

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Sk8ter Bois

Introducing Incubus videos on MTV tends to make people wary of your punk credibility, which is a shame. Good Charlotte may be the best punk band alive and under 25—not despite the synthetic sounds and crass lyrics that fill their new The Young and the Hopeless, but because of them. Too many young punks are too strident in their theology to incorporate pop influences or too “poetic” to just blurt out the dumb shit that’s clogging their naive and oversensitive minds. For Good Charlotte, these are not issues.

The Mercury Rev-style symphonic swooping in “A New Beginning” would be ironic if the keyboards went away elsewhere, but they also glossy up tearjerkers like “Say Anything” and “Wondering” as if Benji—the Noel Gallagher of this twin-led band—wasn’t afraid of hardcore hardheads yelling out “Third Eye Blind!” at the Warped Tour. “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” cops Burundi drums from “Lust for Life,” Marion Barry jokes from Chris Rock, and dub-echo effects from Def Leppard’s Hysteria. If you like all three, the song will make you crap your drawers. Plus (dependin’ on your appreciation of snooze/drone/vacuum cleaner rock), “My Bloody Valentine” starts out like the best MBV song ever.

“Riot Girl” is the flipside to Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8ter Boi”—Joel (the Liam of the band) fawns over a “hood rat who needs an attitude adjustment” and acknowledges that boys get weak at the knees when a girl likes underground bands. There are some worthless us-vs.-them rants against preppies, too, but better that sort of crap from adolescent-sounding punks than from well-read grown-ups like Le Tigre: The young ‘uns still have time to outgrow their lack of sympathy. Good Charlotte are halfway there already—*NSync-er Chris Fitzpatrick, who appears (along with Mike Watt!) in the video for “Lifestyles,” has supposedly inspired Benji to “think twice about people in general.” If you’re not too much of a kneejerk rebel-rebel to appreciate the sentiment, The Young and the Hopeless will make your compromised sellout punkass day as much as it does mine.