There comes a time for every pop-punk band of a certain level to decide which of two paths they’ll take next. The first is to rough it within the grassroots scene they inevitably started in, making room to open up for embracing more hardcore-influenced territory. The second is what typically happens to those bands who’ve already achieved their greater degree of success, realising that even more will undoubtedly come from cleaner, friendlier tones, and as All Time Low and blink-182 have already proven, that commercial viewpoint can reap some serious rewards.
As for State Champs, it’s seemed for a while that the latter was the only option available to them. Ever since 2015’s Around The World And Back demonstrated a tighter, slicker take on the pop-punk that saw them explode a couple of years prior, the band have been rising through the ranks of the genre almost nonstop, becoming pally with All Time Low’s Alex Gaskarth along the way, and teaming up with the big man himself John Feldmann to co-produce this third full-length. And with all that information in mind, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what Living Proof sounds like, and how this is yet another pop-punk band diluting their sound to play it safe for a newly-earned mass audience. Granted, this is hardly the worst example of one of these albums – there’s not a pop-punk band around who can pen choruses with as much verve and spark as State Champs – but considering how the band seemed to be thriving in where they came from, this is a disappointment.
But before anything else, it’s worth appreciating that State Champs haven’t totally severed their roots just yet. With Derek DiScanio’s hoarse, raspier vocals, tracks like Lightning and Safe Haven stay buoyed off a punk feel that’s still there, even if it’s only at the core and even if it only emerges to the surface for a chorus. Even so, it’s still somewhat encouraging that State Champs haven’t gone the whole hog with their version of Last Young Renegade and have still kept some pace and bounce into the equation. It at least partly masks the lyrical shortcomings that – in all honesty – are more or less consistent of State Champs albums, and when so much mainstream pop-punk is defaulting to drab, dreary pop tones that don’t work for it, to hear at least something even resembling meat and crunch in Frozen or Cut Through The Static feels like an absolute godsend. If this is the album that takes State Champs to the heights they clearly want to reach, at least it won’t be doing so with the full abandonment of what made them a great band in the first place.
But where State Champs albums have typically relied on a decidedly all killer, no filler basis, Living Proof feels distinctly lighter in the former category than usual. And this feels like the result of a couple of factors that have shifted State Champs’ formerly rock-solid formula into something a bit less stable, the first being a combination of a heavy reliance on outside influences coupled with simply weaker songcraft. It’s already been addressed that the perfunctory “whoa-oh”s and generally mid-paced gait of Dead And Gone is an All Time Low song by any other name, but the sugary pop-rock influences in The Fix Up are directly in line with The Maine (particularly in DiScanio’s lower notes on the chorus which sound uncannily like John O’Callaghan), and Mine Is Gold takes the intro of blink-182’s Feeling This and hook melody of No Future wholesale. Of course, this may be due to general homogenisation of John Feldmann’s circle of influence, and even though State Champs feel exempt from the full brunt of his “assistance” (there are far fewer millennial whoops than initial expected, which is definitely pleasing), there’s still the same gamey production film that automatically makes so much of it feel watered down, and when a song like Time Machine does a perfectly fine job of that on its own, the results aren’t great to say the least.
It feels as though State Champs have stumbled into an area they shouldn’t be in on Living Proof, one where the corporate end of pop-punk reigns supreme while they’re still trying to the push forward with their own vision. And they’re trying so hard too, refusing to succumb to overall sterility, and that’s something to really commend this album for, but for a band who could’ve done huge things off their own back, they’ve taken the easy route, and that really dampens what Living Proof brings to the table.
For fans of: All Time Low, blink-182, Good Charlotte
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Living Proof’ by State Champs is released on 15th June on Pure Noise Records.