Just before completing their follow up to 2002’s Does This
Look Infected?, Sum 41 ventured to the Democratic Republic of Congo
to create a documentary about the war-torn land, taking time to
play sports with local children and interview war survivors for
what was supposed to be an awareness-raising video.

This seems surprisingly mature for a group of guys who claimed
“we laugh when old people fall,” and who have remained
steadfast on their party-punk band shenanigans on and off stage for
half a decade. Nevertheless, their harrowing tale of major-label
good deeds ended abruptly, as they were caught in the crossfire of
the Congolese army and rebels. They were saved by a dashing U.N.
peacekeeper, Chuck, to whom they owe their lives, continuing
“TRL” status, and, of course, new album title.

Thus the newest offering from Sum 41, Chuck, is released with a
renewed political fervor. Rebels and “Jackass” pranks
aside, Chuck is, musically, a surprisingly mature endeavor for such
a pack of Warped Tour jokesters.

After a monotonously guitar-picked intro track, Sum 41 launch
into a pair of songs that add them to the bevy of Canadian rockers
who are interestingly involved with what would appear to be
American politics (Sum 41 are avid participants in the Rock Against
Bush Campaign). Sparkplug frontman Deryck Whibley yelps:
“Telling lies as alibis / Selling all the hate that we breed
super size / Our tragedies in the land of the free” in the
well-placed lead single, “We’re All To
Blame.”

Chuck is filled with bigger-than-life riffs, taking Sum 41 to a
place where they obviously wanted to be four years ago, citing
“Maiden and Priest” as the rock gods they praised.
Without changing styles, the band comes closer than it ever has to
its metal-punk persona and departs from its rebellious, frat-party
antics. “The Bitter End” actually evokes an early
Metallica vibe, with heavy verse riffing and throaty yelling topped
by guitarist Dave Baksh’s searing, ’70s-style arena
rock solos.

Sum 41 still won’t disappoint the throngs of simple-minded
fans looking for destructive love anthems and lame party
sing-alongs, for the amount of grown-up content slightly overweighs
the traditional pop-punk most likely garnered from their countless
tours with cohorts Good Charlotte or Simple Plan. “Some
Say” pains the Hot Topic-laden crowd with lonesome acoustic
guitar balladry and a soaring chorus that reminds the downtrodden
listener: “You don’t seem to realize / I can do this on
my own / And if I fall I’ll take it all.” One can only
assume Whibley laments life as he knows it without feisty, iconic
main squeeze Avril Lavigne.

Regardless of image, album history or certain
current-affair/publicity-gaining events involving African nations,
Chuck proves to be more mature than and lyrically superior to its
predecessors. Still, Sum 41 have growing to do. Although they have
shed much of their prankster two-minute pop jaunts, they are still
guilty of annoyingly heavy riffing, obnoxious call and response
yelping and kitschy lovelorn/political rhetoric. Sum 41 needs to do
a better job proving they deserved to be saved from the crossfire
of Congolese rebels.

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