Goodbye, middle fingers and penis jokes; hello, maturity. 2004 is the year that punk-pop is moving outta the basement, getting a real job, and learning how to act its age, gosh darn it. Blink-182 kicked off the trend last winter with a selftitled meditation on romantic decay; last month came Green Day's American Idiot, a rock opera that stretches waaaay beyond their standard three-chord rants. And now, Warped Tour regulars, Good Charlotte is bringing their A game (that's A for Adulthood), releasing an accomplished album that put them at the forefront of the Generation Y punk brats.
It's easy to understand why Good Charlotte is huge: 2002's triple-platinum The Young and the Hopeless was undeniably rousing and fist-pumping (if overproduced and simplistic). Their studied rebelliousness might be a turn-off, but even gray-haired CBGB vets should take their latest for a spin.
After an orchestral intro, the quintet's third disc, The Chronicles of Life and Death, begins with the title track, a jaunty, Kinks-style shuffle with a fatalistic chorus (''You come in this world and you go out just the same'') and a hook that grabs you from hello. From then on, it's clear that the eyelinered band has taken a giant leap forward -- in instrumental prowess, and in emotional and melodic scope. Modest moshers are only a fraction of their repertoire now; instead, they're a surprisingly awesome and diverse modern-rock act, capable of aching new-wave sob stories (''Ghost of You''), mopey emo (''Secrets''), and lots of angstridden suburban breakup punk -- aided by the fact that lead yelper Joel Madden always sounds as if someone just ran over his dog.
Though the inevitable power ballads slow down the flow, the only real misstep is ''I Just Wanna Live,'' a rap cut where Madden makes like Greta Garbo and whines, ''They won't leave me alone.'' C'mon, dude, your first hit single was a celebrity mocker called ''Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.'' Sure, growing up is hard to do, but how about a little self-awareness?