At this point, it’s safe to assume that the bygone era of The Finer Things truly isn’t coming back. State Champs had a star-making debut, the perfect permutation of early 2010s pop-punk that heightened the pop factor without marginalising the punk, and ever since, that balance has been a bit more skewed. It wasn’t so bad on Around The World And Back where their irrepressible verve and gusto could still prevail through something cleaner, but 2018’s Living Proof was a real disappointment. It was forgettable for one, but it also sanded down the spirit of State Champs to an almost unsalvageable degree, going through the motions with the sort of pop-punk to match. While they’ve never tipped into true drudgery (the live show and fervour of the fanbase has saved them there), the best way to describe State Champs’ recent work is just ordinary, the work of a band assimilating into a position that isn’t conducive to what they’re best at.
As such, it’s good to see Kings Of The New Age presented as something of a snap back into focus, insofar as State Champs feel looser and more galvanised than the rather flaccid note their last album left. Some of the old boldness is pleasingly back, without totally displacing the influence of newer pop-punk movements, even if the gulf can be a bit obvious. Half Empty is the clearest example, in how the whooshing, cinematic grandeur slides into alt-pop at the expense of real meat, and feels like a less-than-ideal flash of a band anchoring in trends once more. Fortunately that’s about it for extreme examples; the sharper, tidier production textures on Fake It and Act Like That are still there, but they aren’t overtaking the guitar presence. It’s mostly emblematic of the pop focus that State Champs have onboard in their current incarnation, drastically outweighing most of what could reasonably called punk, but seldom feeling objectionable. They’ve always been fond of doling out enormous hooks, and Kings Of The New Age settles on a stronger crop by simply returning to surging, locomotive melody. It’s what makes Eventually or Everybody But You sound unmistakably like State Champs songs, mid-paced and rousing while being shaped more distinctly by Derek DiScanio’s sneered vocal delivery.
It serves to make Kings Of The New Age one of those albums for which its catchiness supersedes all else, but it’s able to get away with it all the same. State Champs’ likability is something to drive them forward rather than coast on, and thus the back-to-basics pop-punk approach feels definitively the point. Opening with a song like Here To Stay really drives that in, in the band’s big statement of perseverance to get where they are with a similar headlong, to-the-wind rush that shapes Just Sound and Act Like That. It’s filled out by the big, bracing love songs in Outta My Head and Sundress and the traditional slyer, less complimentary jab of Everybody But You, all indicating State Champs’ retightening and realigning with what they do best. It’s probably why there isn’t much to be said for the guest stars, all of whom are here to add a bit of a different flavour to bridges, and thus can feel like wasted resources; sure, it’s fine for Four Year Strong or Neck Deep’s Ben Barlow, but Against The Current’s Chrissy Costanza and country singer Mitchell Tenpenny present such obvious new opportunities that aren’t utilised. The lion’s share of the energy is given to State Champs themselves, a decision that ultimately feels worthwhile in the bigger picture. They’re back to a leaner, poppier form that’s looking to eschew as much clutter as possible, and even if that brings into question to notion of having these guests in the first place, the band themselves are seeing the benefits from it.
As such, Kings Of The New Age is less a triumphant new peak for State Champs, and more an upward incline that’s drastically sharpened since last time. It’s indicative of the best possible outcome for where they currently are, tripling down on pop-punk that has punch and drive while being able to keep its own polish in check. At a time when pop-punk’s bigger upstarts aren’t even coming close to that, it’s just good to have State Champs around for a reminder of that equilibrium. This is just solid work that achieves exactly what it sets out to, not reinventing anything but reaffirming the level of quality that this band are capable of. Plus, it’s hard to really dislike on the basis of pop-rock brimming with energy and momentum, and State Champs can pull that off with phenomenal ease.
For fans of: Neck Deep, Seaway, Four Year Strong
‘Kings Of The New Age’ by State Champs is released on 13th May on Pure Noise Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall