The irony of Good Charlotte’s first major hit being Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous has been discussed before, but never has it been more poignant than now. In the interim between their last album, 2010’s so-so Cardiology and now, the band have been living the same celebrity lifestyle that they initially chastised, especially the band’s dual figureheads Joel and Benji Madden. As well as both brothers currently serving as judges on The Voice Australia, the two have also found themselves in the public eye thanks to their high-profile marriages, Joel to socialite Nicole Richie, and Benji to actress Cameron Diaz. As such, it’s difficult to judge their sixth album Youth Authority away from this, similar to how Fall Out Boy’s recent material has often been viewed in conjunction with their current status. But unlike the experiment in chart-baiting / ego-stroking masturbation that is Fall Out Boy’s latest material, Youth Authority is a lot more in line with Good Charlotte’s typical fare.
It’s just a shame that, in this continuation of sound, Youth Authority retains many of the problems that plagued Cardiology. A major one appears in the production, which has John Feldmann’s fingerprints all over it – clear as a bell and blemish-free, maximising each song’s pop appeal. And while Good Charlotte have never been the most raw band, their earlier material at least had a bit of crunch to it; for most of Youth Authority, any edges are sanded down and buffed for something far too smooth and slick. It’s here where the two prominent musical touchstones that this album gravitates around reveal themselves – All Time Low’s Future Hearts and 5 Seconds Of Summer. Spread throughout Youth Authority is the featherweight sparkle of the former and the high-on-life brightness of the latter, and while on paper the two would seem like natural bedfellows, the end result is an overly saccharine, wishy-washy mush.
Sadly, this is the case for much of the album, especially in the back half. The Outfield is probably the worst offender with its toothache-inducing synth twinkles and paper-thin guitars, but it still doesn’t manage to divert the blame from some of this album’s other cuts. The watery Life Can’t Get Much Better plods along with its listless drum thuds, and War, the track the band have actually claimed is the heaviest song they’ve written, ends up about as heavy as a loaf of bread. Factor in tracks like Cars Full Of People that have absolutely zero memorability to them, and a lot of the time it feels as though Youth Authority has more than its fair share of moments whose only purpose is to pad out the runtime.
Of course, this album does have its highlights, and to be honest these are what save it from really sliding out of control. At its best, Youth Authority harks back to Good Charlotte in their prime, with a bit more of an organic bounce and that early-2000s pop-punk attitude. The double-hitter of Life Changes and Makeshift Love kick off the album with the kind of summer bangers that you can really never have too many of, and Stray Dogs uses gentle acoustic textures and sweeping melodrama for a mature ’90s pop ballad. They’re still as light as anything, but they at least have a bit more meat and muscle that a lot of this album is just desperate for.
But then there’s the lyrics, and it seems that in two decades of being in a band, Good Charlotte are still unaware that yes, songs can have some sort of subtext to them. They never hit Simple Plan levels of on-the-nose lyricism (thank God) and 40 oz. Dream at least has a shred of self-awareness about how out-of-touch it sounds, but in terms of exploring topics, some of these tracks never seem to break the surface level. Reason To Stay is the typical ‘complicated relationship’ track boiled down to its most rudimentary form (and the tacked-on acoustic intro from Biffy Clyro frontman Simon Neil just feels unnecessary), while The Outfield‘s attempt at an outsiders anthem while simultaneously bitching about parents and school would feel miscalculated in 2005, let alone in 2016 from a group of men in their mid-to-late-30s. And for some reason, Stray Dogs decides to throw in the line “I’m giving you the same old speech again / Like they do on CNN” right before the emotional crux of the track. Because that’s such a good idea.
In all honesty though, for as many criticisms that can be made about Youth Authority, it’s not the same kind of offensively bad as some other releases this year. It stumbles a great deal in terms of thorough analysis, but for a passive listen as a summer album or a nostalgia trip, it holds up well enough. But it’s hard to give it a pass because of this, purely because there is so much to criticise. There seems to have been very little progression in those six years away, and ultimately, the end result just feels like Good Charlotte coasting rather than making a conscious effort. It’s definitely worth a listen if only to see how one of early-2000s pop-punk’s veterans are coping in the modern day, but there’s a definite disclaimer attached. So give it a listen, but a cautious one.
For fans of: All Time Low, Simple Plan, 5 Seconds Of Summer
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Youth Authority’ by Good Charlotte is out now on MDDN Records / Kobalt Records.