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If there’s one thing you cannot fault Pennywise for throughout their massive 30 years together, it’s the fact that they: never slowed down, never chickened out, stayed true, and always kept their traditional melodic punk rock sound as hard and as fast as they could. Everyone else be damned!
Pennywise was never a bad band and they most certainly earned their spot as one of punk’s greatest acts, all for good reason. Plenty of pissed-off attitude, Fletcher Dragge’s thrashy guitar riffs, Byron McMackin’s furious punk rock drumming, and big choruses with bigger melody’s from the (albeit limited-range) of frontman Jim Lindberg all became stable foundations that built the best Pennywise albums: ‘About Time’, ‘Full Circle’, ‘Land of the Free?’, ‘From The Ashes‘, and, of course, the damned solid Zoli Téglás fronted ‘All Or Nothing’. (Please excuse this tangent, but it pains me deeply that many die-hard and casual fans alike don’t care for that latter 2012 record just cause Lindberg wasn’t on it. And then I’m further saddened by the fact that Zoli’s main band, Ignite, aren’t really active these days).
All of this usual songwriting formula predicates right into the 14-tracks on Pennywise’s latest album, ‘Never Gonna Die‘. For a bunch of dudes who are now over the 50 line collectively, that borderline stubborn adherence to their sound is almost endearing, but their upkeep of such a career is no easy feat. In that regard, they’re definitely one of the better, more consistent veteran punk rock bands around. Because as the name of this new record suggests, the Cali legends are forever forging onwards – they’re never gonna die. (Well, until either of the four members do actually passes away, but that’s beside the point). However, this doubling down approach on their overly repetitive style is a double-edged Mohawk because ride me hard and call me ‘daddy’, this album is seriously just Pennywise as Pennywise have been doing for three fuckin’ decades. Except that now in 2018 – the current year of our Lord – it’s lost a lot of the impact and memorability that made their older records such standout releases for the genre.
In short: this album isn’t bad per say, but geez, I sure have heard the American quintet do so much better than this here LP.
Now, some will call this laziness or even a cop-out on my part for an album review but come on, guys, do I really need to talk about the music on the band’s 12th studio album? If you’ve heard literally any other Pennywise releases – just take your pick from their 11 other albums, honestly – then you have most certainly heard this new one by and large.
Of course, that’s the intent; Pennywise definitely aren’t trying to redesign any wheels, they just want to play loud and fast punk rock, sticking to their guns and staying true to themselves and their fanbase’s expectations. They won’t give up the fight, as this album’s tenth song of the same name clearly states. And they do that okay across this new LP cause yeah, it’s decent enough (he stated, somewhat hesitantly). Besides, skate punk fans will lap it up regardless just because it’s a new Pennywise record.
However, are there any new classics present here? Nah. Are there any sonic or musical differentiations from the band’s more than well-worn held course? Nope. Are there any songs here that will remain set staples for many years to come? Well, until this album cycle ends in about 12-18 months, barely one or two songs will remain in future shows after that. (That small handful of tracks probably – key word there – being either ‘Live While You Can‘, the title track, and ‘She Said‘).
Of course, it’s just not a Pennywise record unless there’s some time spent rather vaguely addressing whatever deeper political bullshit was happening at the time of writing their current record. On this record, ‘American Lies‘, ‘By A Little Hope‘, ‘Keep Moving On‘ and ‘We Set Fire‘ are just more of the same “rise-up and re-take” social-political punk anthems that bands such as Pennywise made full-blown careers out of. Except that none of these songs will ever top the oldies of ‘Fuck Authority‘, ‘Homesick‘, and ‘Society‘, among others. Which is the main gripe I have with this new record – it’s just Pennywise, but you and I have all heard far better examples of their sound countless times before now.
However, I’ll stop being a negative prick for a few seconds to talk about what I actually enjoyed about ‘Never Gonna Die‘.
Easy album standout ‘She Said‘ sees the band reign in their speed and aggression slightly for catchier riffs and a more interesting narrative hook. It’s about battling those memories of personal loss when left in the wake of someone losing their will to live and succumbing to suicidal thoughts. For a passable record that’s somewhat forgettable, having passionate and genuinely sing-along inducing lyrics in this emotive song’s chorus like, “Give me the truth, can’t take another lie/And this might be the night that’s gonna save my life/’Cause I’m sick to death of the hypocrisy/Just one idea’s enough to make us all believe” sticks out massively so. If there’s one great song to take away from this album, it’s ‘She Said‘ by a country mile!
Then, in a similar fashion of combating personal matters, mental health issues, in this case, we have ‘All The Ways U Can Die‘. This song is even more emotive and dire in its tone. Here, Lindberg and the rest of Pennywise talk directly to you, the listener, and anyone else that might be stuck in some kind of rotting hell lately. This track hits hard as a reminder that temporary problems aren’t properly solved with a permanent solution – death by one’s own hand. For a band who lost their old bassist, Jason Thirsk, to suicide back in 1996 (a tragic scenario that became the story behind the band’s classic set-ender ‘Bro Hymn‘), this is deeply poignant stuff, both lyrically and musically speaking. And I just so sorely wished that there were far more gripping and personalised songs such as ‘All The Ways U Can Die‘ and ‘She Said‘ on ‘Never Gonna Die‘ for me to latch onto.
The message of ‘Never Gonna Die’ is for resistance, for activism, for passionate people’s belief’s, for justice, for hope, and for Pennywise’s own ethos and work ethic to do just that: live on for as long as possible, forever fighting the good fight. Which is an endearing and non-cynical framework for an album released this far into a band’s three-decade-long career – I’ll definitely give these Cali guys that. Yet Pennywise have made a stellar career on offering time and time again such similar messages of hope and inspiration packaged into their now tiresome brand of fast and melodic punk rock; so much so that the diminishing returns of the group so closely sticking with this style are setting in even harder now on LP #12.
If you’re a fan that’s stuck in your own listening ways about Pennywise and punk rock as a whole, then having yet another typical Pennywise-sounding album on your hands will probably seem like a wet dream made real. But for the rest of us not so far down that rabbit hole, this is a mostly fine if overly repetitive and inarguably expected record that’ll leave some people out there wanting much more. People such as myself. Yes, it might not be broken, but that doesn’t at all mean that it cannot be improved upon.
1. Never Gonna Die
2. American Lies
3. Keep Moving On
4. Live While You Can
5. We Set Fire
6. She Said
7. Can’t Be Ignored
8. Goodbye Bad Times
9. A Little Hope
10. Won’t Give Up the Fight
11. Can’t Save You Now
12. All the Ways U Can Die
14. Something New 2:13
‘Never Gonna Die’ is out now via Epitaph Records.