Here’s to us fools that have no meaning…
Sometimes I wonder if every generation just thinks the music they grew up with is the best, or if what’s popular with young teens today really does absolutely suck. It amazes me how much has changed since I first fell in love with music. I’m not even 20, but the difference between what was getting kids into music when I was 13 and the shitstorm of synth/dance/crunkcore bullshit that kids are getting into now is just baffling.
The very end of the 90’s and first few years of the new millennium saw a wave of goofy, energetic, and often heartbroken suburban kids who didn’t know how to play their instruments (and didn’t try to pretend they did) break into popular music. Kids of all ages (I was about 10 when I discovered Blink182) could relate to the fist-pumping, heart-on-your-tiny-sleeve lyrical content, or at the very least the catchy melodies and twangy guitar lines. Baggy shorts, baby-sized tees, and striped tube socks became badges that connoted membership to a movement that was always seeking new members. No elitism, no self-destructive stigmas, no bullshit. Just catchy music, positive energy, and community.
That’s all dead and nothing can ever bring it back.
Pop-punk posterboys New Found Glory, a band that I will praise until the day I die, is now the most tell-tale example of why the genre they helped thrust into the mainstream will never influence impressionable and desperate young teenagers ever again.
Ten years ago yesterday (10/20), NFG released their debut full-length Nothing Gold Can Stay on Drive-Thru records, a label that played a huge role in shaping my early music taste but has since gone to shit trying to adhere to the ever-changing (in the worst possible way) “underground” rock scene. NGCS is raw, unpolished, and downright immature, but in a way that foreshadowed an immense amount of maturity-via-immaturity to come from this promising group of five dudes from Coral Springs, FL. Alternative Press named it one of 1999’s influential albums. AP writer Brendan Manley writes foreshowingly, “Like it’s title implies, Nothing Gold Can Stay is the sonic transcript of a glorious, fleeting time for NFG – and for pop-punk. But just as gold never loses its luster, it’s only fitting that 10 years later, Nothing Gold Can Stay still shines.” NFG released their self-titled album in 2000 and Sticks and Stones in 2002. Both became landmark albums in the pop-punk scene. To this day, I can put on Sticks and Stones in my car at any given time and be able to belt out the words to “My Friends Over You” with absolutely anyone who happens to be sitting shotgun at the time.
In 2004, NFG released Catalyst, an angrier, more explorational follow-up to Sticks and Stones. The album saw the band fidgeting and veering slightly off the pop-punk path. It seemed as though, if only for a brief moment, they were tired of wearing the pop-punk tag and shed their old skin. This was the same year that Blink182 released their dramatically polarizing, relatively experimental untitled album. The fact that the album was fantastic and just what maturing Blink fans needed (whether they let themselves know it or not) is beside the point; 2004 watched two of pop-punk’s most monumental figureheads slide away from their signature sounds that propelled a movement. This wouldn’t have been a bad thing had the music scene remembered to take its ADD meds. Unfortunately, it didn’t.
The band rediscovered and even embellished its sunny energy on the tragically underrated Coming Home in 2006. The album was decidedly happy and carried nothing but uplifting messages throughout. NFG’s guitarist and de-facto leader Chad Gilbert said the songs came out that way because he and lead singer Jordan Pundik were both engaged and everyone in the band was comfortable and happy, for the most part. The album didn’t sell as well as expected. By 2006, kids were just not interested.
The bands that were influenced by bands like NFG were marketing a new kind of “underground” pop music (oxymoron) that twisted and mutated any aspect of pop-punk that could be sold as a gimmick. Personally (anyone who knows me knows this might stem from a personal vendetta), I blame Fall Out Boy bassist/frontman (not lead singer) Pete Wentz for getting that ball of dung rolling. In all fairness, Fall Out Boy started as a pop-punk band with decent intentions. Singer Patrick Stumps melodies are solid and catchy and Wentz’s lyrics, though they may be empty, are occasionally clever in a way that one might be able to squeeze out a few drops of meaning. But once Fall Out Boy landed heavy rotation on MTV (or at least MTV’s distant cousin who lives up in the high-200 channels and still plays music videos), Wentz began to market his face and sell his image. The music isn’t as terrible as I sometimes like to let on, but I have an awfully hard time extracting any sense of honesty from it. Wentz has a knack for knowing what’s going to be popular with early highschoolers a second or two before it happens, and he uses it to his full advantage. Pop-punk bands in the late 90’s/early 2000’s lacked this foresight, and didn’t give a fuck. They just made energetic, therapeutic music for themselves in which others happened to find similar meaning. I have trouble taking a band seriously whose least talented member is placed smack-dab in the middle of t-shirts and promo shots simply because he is the best looking.