There’s always been a Peter Pan-esque quality to Good Charlotte’s music. For better or worse, appealing to the younger generations has always been at the forefront, and while on 2000’s self-titled debut and – perhaps more crucially – 2002’s The Young And The Hopeless, they were that generation, they never grew up with them. Particularly through the 2010s, the efforts they seemed to be going to appeal to new listeners saw a drastic drop-off for them, dumbing down lyrics that couldn’t afford much more of that and latching onto the cleanest, most pop-friendly production money could buy. Any assertions of Good Charlotte still being a pop-punk band – or even just a pop-rock band – seemed to have been swept aside for pandering machine they’d clearly become.
But here’s the most peculiar thing about Generation Rx – at its core, very little has changed. It’s still an album used as a platform for Good Charlotte to touch base with a modern generation of teenagers and young people, but the crucial difference is there’s something behind this one. This isn’t another petty jab at parents or nebulous authority figures, but rather a very real criticism on the opioid crisis that’s seen so many young people succumb to their own mental illness or die because of insufficient mental health care, and inspired by the death of Lil Peep with whom the band had become friends, it would appear to be the most involved that they’ve been within their subject matter in years. It barely even seems like a Good Charlotte album on the face of it, and even sonically, the resemblance to their past work is occasional at best; it’s quite possibly this band’s darkest and most mature album to date, and their best in a long time for it.
And what’s impressive about this album in particular is how thorough Good Charlotte are. This could have easily been a collection of self-flagellating misery and self-esteem anthems (and tracks like Cold Song and California (The Way I Say I Love You) do come dangerously close at points), but the execution feels so much more barbed and potent. Joel Madden is certainly not a powerhouse vocalist, but from the dips into harsher, almost screamed vocals on Self Help and Shadowboxer, he’s throwing himself in and embracing the turmoil and turbulence. What’s more, there’s probably more deep exploration of any topic than Good Charlotte have ever put on record, whether that’s an understanding of how the line between mental and physical damage is blurred so heavily on Actual Pain, or the futility of “thoughts and prayers” in the aftermath of tragedy when nothing is actually being done to help on Prayers. It makes a lot more sense to have Architects’ Sam Carter feature on Leech than initially, and while he’s hardly given the room to let loose or scream like he usually would (this is still a Good Charlotte album, after all), his presence is indicative of the rawness and realness that wants to be conveyed here, and it’s done really well.
As for the vehicles in which these messages are delivered, they’re worth giving credit to for Good Charlotte at least making an attempt at a heavier, more oppressively downbeat turn, especially after how candy-coated 2016’s Youth Authority was. And for a Good Charlotte album, this is heavy, usually the sort of thing relegated to their big emo ballads for maximum catharsis, and even then they’re probably turned up even more than that here. It’s great to hear some guitar crunch on Self Help or Better Demons, and even the prominent electronics add some extra crackle into the mix to a degree. And that really is to a degree, because the bad habit of making everything as spotless as possible rears its ugly head once again, and there are moments where it would be nice if the instrumentation could match the curdled anger of the lyrics or even the vocals. Self Help is a great example of it working with the chopped-and-screwed opening that gives it a borderline industrial veneer, but with the heavier processed beats on Prayers or the archetypal building piano ballad of Cold Song, more could be done here (particularly when Prayers is a pretty decent song otherwise). By the time the closer California (The Way I Say I Love You) comes around, they’ve reverted back to super-clean acoustic lines that stand completely at odds with everything else, and for an album that only consists of nine songs, a design choice as baffling as that can have much more of a negative impact.
But considering the material that Good Charlotte have been putting out for the best part of a decade and where Generation Rx falls into that lineage, this is easily the best album they’ve released in years, even with its flaws. Just the fact that this is, once again, a rock album that’s not only real but realistic already places it streets ahead of its predecessors, and the level of care and maturity that’s shown here is excellent. In the space of two years, Good Charlotte have grown from another band of has-beens trying to rehash and cash in on the past, to a rock band that’s solid across the board, and setting the standard for what the scene’s elder statesmen should be aiming for. It’s still a bit shocking that this is the album that Good Charlotte of all bands decided to release in 2018, but when it’s as good as it is, it’s not worth complaining.
For fans of: Linkin Park, Pierce The Veil, Thirty Seconds To Mars
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Generation Rx’ by Good Charlotte is released on 14th September on MDDN Records / BMG Rights Management.