Somehow, the ”pop-punk” tag has attached itself to Maryland quintet Good Charlotte, sticking like leather pants to a syrup-encrusted chair. But let’s be real: They’ve been shedding their putative mosh-pit roots (which were never that deep, despite their tattoos and spiky-‘dos image) with each pristinely produced, hypercommercial release. Good Morning Revival, the band’s fourth effort, is the culmination of this tendency, which began in earnest with their decidedly more streamlined breakthrough CD, 2002’s The Young and the Hopeless. The formula is now about one part punk to four parts homogenized ”modern rock,” with plenty of new-wavey synths bolstering the galloping guitars. The effect is more A Flock of Seagulls than Ramones, with a high premium put on infectious choruses and razor-sharp melodic hooks. Their cannily constructed songs won’t change anyone’s life, but they sound good enough to almost convince you they mean something.
Take ”All Black,” an anthemic declaration of love for the Goth nation’s favorite color. Singer Joel Madden implies that his worldview is as dark as his wardrobe, and you find yourself singing along passionately even if you don’t buy that an ebony T-shirt signifies anything beyond a Gap-approved fashion staple to him. Similarly, his exhortation in the paradoxically cheery ”Misery” to ”keep your sadness alive” rings as hollow as the inside of Paris Hilton’s head.
Of course, when Madden rails against ”shallow” people on the above track, you can’t help but smile; this is, after all, the guy who scored a hit single predicated on the observation ”Girls like cars and money.” It could even be argued that the Good boys revel in such superficiality. Cock an ear to the saccharine ”Where Would We Be”; the song flaunts its romantic schmaltz in a manner that borders on parody (”And now I must confess/That I’m a sinking ship…anchored by the weight of my heart”). And the band isn’t abashed about aiming for the lowest common denominator, whether it’s churning out a ready-made disco-lite novelty (”Dance Floor Anthem”) or indulging in generic whitebread rapping (”Keep Your Hands Off My Girl”).
But just when you’re thinking Revival is straight outta Wimpsville, along comes a gnarly gem called ”Break Her Heart,” with a killer guitar filigree and a sour lyric about how the best way to keep a female wrapped around your finger is to…oh, you guessed it, huh? Sure, it’s a trite sentiment, but it’s executed to brutally good musical effect. And it’s the one track on this CD where Madden seems to believe what he’s singing about. To paraphrase the Reverend Jesse Jackson: Keep punk alive!