Of the bevy of SoCal punk bands to make any sort of noise in the ‘90s and 2000s, Pennywise have rarely stood out among their peers. Sure, songs like Fuck Authority and Bro Hymn are recognisable enough, but in arguably lacking a truly seminal album, or any sort of distinctive features away from their contemporaries, their journey into the modern day has coasted to a point where they just feel like part of the furniture in the punk scene. Even when original vocalist Jim Lindberg rejoined the band in 2012, the overriding reaction seemed to be a mildly agreeable nod as opposed to anything more extreme.
But to Pennywise’s credit, much of their later output has given the impression that they’re well aware of that. This is music for the longtime fans rather to coax any newcomers in, and as such it doesn’t have to be their late-career opus; as long as it goes down well enough, it’s fine. And Never Gonna Die seems to be the very epitome of fine, with enough speed and energy to sate the diehards, and the typical mix of social commentary and bracing positivity that Pennywise have become known for.
As such, this falls into a fairly established holding pattern for this band, especially in the context of a “legacy” act trying to get a foothold in the modern scene. Byron McMackin keeps the double-time drums tight at all times (and when they appear on virtually every track, that’s a necessity), and the likes of Live While You Can and Goodbye Bad Times are the sort of simple singalongs that this sort of punk lives and dies on. Admittedly it does dip into formulaic territory pretty quickly, and with fourteen tracks roughly constructed the same, that becomes extremely noticeable, but with over half blitzing by in under three minutes, it’s hardly much to complain about.
It’s a similar case with the lyrics, in that they’re very emblematic of Pennywise’s style but remain passable overall. There’s decent mileage in themes of keeping your head up even in the most uncertain of times, even if in isolated pieces, the conversation could do with being fleshed out a bit more. As political tracks, American Lies and Can’t Save You Now are fine in their flurries of anger, but stepping into the brighter, more brazen populism of A Little Hope or All The Ways U Can Die, they feel underwritten by comparison and lack that sufficient bite. She Said does this approach a lot better, with more detail on Lindberg’s remorse at being unable to help a depressed and suicidal friend, and really does highlight how lacking some of these other tracks can feel.
But even with that, Never Gonna Die is good enough, and for a band who’ve held as steadfast as Pennywise, that warrants a pass. Fans will be pleased even if this isn’t the greatest or most technically advanced album ever, and sticking in their own lane has once again yielded results that are perfectly solid. It’d be nice to see Pennywise give a bit more fire and move out of cruise control, there’s nothing to complain too much about here, at least not when viewed in the vacuum of Pennywise’s most recent output.
For fans of: NOFX, Bad Religion, Anti-Flag
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Never Gonna Die’ by Pennywise is out now on Epitaph Records.