Many bands, particularly those in the pop-punk space, often evolve beyond the dick-and-fart-joke circuit and mature into legitimate critical and commercial forces. The likes of Green Day and Blink-182 come to mind.
But what about those that get left behind, those who evolve with the times but are — for reasons beyond their control — largely ignored by the commercial music-buying public? Good Charlotte, who plays House of Blues on Tuesday night, is one of those bands. Led by brothers Benji and Joel Madden, the band burst onto the scene in the early 2000s with a unique blend of musical competence and frequent lyrical immaturity. Their breakout song “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” which totally stole from a Chris Rock standup bit, stands as a prime example.
This and other singles propelled the band’s sophomore effort, The Young and the Hopeless, to multiplatinum status, despite the fact that the album – despite its commercial appeal – wasn’t really all that good. The Young and the Hopeless was met with mixed critical reaction, and terms like “predictable” and “clichéd” were thrown about liberally. These critics weren’t wrong, even if consumers didn’t seem to mind.
Good Charlotte, to its credit, could have gone back to the formulaic pop-punk well for its next record, and while The Chronicles of Life and Death wasn’t a total departure from its predecessor, it did feature an evolved, expanded sound. The lyrics were dark and far more serious and almost emo (this is not an insult), and the band added to its instrumental repertoire by incorporating strings, piano and an organ, not to mention a Japanese choir.
In short, The Chronicles of Life and Death far outpaced The Young and the Hopeless on pretty much every level imaginable. It even debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Top 200, four spots higher than its predecessor, though it eventually went on to sell one-third as many copies. Audiences were still buying Good Charlotte; the audience just wasn’t nearly as large as it had been during the band's youthful, carefree era.
Three years later, Good Morning Revival continued the band’s progression toward critical credibility, and features pop-rock gems like “Dance Floor Anthem” and “Keep Your Hands off My Girl.” It, like The Chronicles of Life and Death, went platinum but didn’t come close to approaching the sales totals of The Young and the Hopeless.
Cardiology, released in 2010, marked a continued musical evolution with a throwback to the band’s carefree sound. It debuted at No. 31 on the Billboard charts and barely went gold. Youth Authority, the band’s best album to date, came and went earlier this year with barely a whimper.
Certainly, music consumption has changed since Good Charlotte debuted more than 15 years ago, so it’s not entirely fair to blame their musical evolution for turning off fans. The band could have released The Young and the Hopeless four times over and still been met with dwindling returns. Plus, young fans – and Good Charlotte had many back in the day – tend to move on and revisit the bands of their youth only for nostalgic purposes. It’s just a shame a band attempted to better itself, despite its commercial success, and was met with indifference.
Not that Good Charlotte is alone. The 2000s were littered with bands that tried to mature and instead faded into commercial irrelevance. Take Sum 41, for instance. The band exploded onto pop and rock radio in 2001 with the smash single “Fat Lip,” which propelled their debut album, All Killer No Filler, to multiplatinum status. This, despite the fact that “Fat Lip” — and much of the album, for that matter — is pretty inessential.
But then, something unique happened. Sum 41 used its commercial capital to take some liberties with its next record, Does This Look Infected? The album, featuring pop-punk masterpieces like “The Hell Song,” “Over My Head (Better off Dead)” and “Still Waiting,” marked a major step-up in quality from their debut. It barely went gold in the U.S.
Subsequent follow-ups, like Chuck and Underclass Hero — the latter of which features the band’s best song, “Walking Disaster” — continued the trend of Sum 41's releasing exceedingly improved albums to dwindling commercial returns. Sum 41 still tours, but mostly so folks like myself, who grew up on the band, can relive a more carefree era for a couple of hours.
Good Charlotte will share that experience on Tuesday night. Sure, some new fans will be in attendance, but the room will be filled mostly with those who came to hear the hits of yesteryear. That’s all well and good, but it’s also kind of sad. These fans will be missing out on something good. Most of them already did.
Good Charlotte and special guests The Story So Far, Hit the Lights and Big Jesus perform Tuesday, November 22 at House of Blues, 1204 Caroline.
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