Published Jul 22, 2019Few would have predicted that Sum 41 would survive the early aughts pop punk boom. As perhaps the most cartoony and immature iteration, there was always a sense that the Ajax quartet were built more for the moment than the long haul.
Yet they've managed to thrive in the years since, slowly moving towards more straightforward hard rock sound (think a non-ironic version of their old Pain for Pleasure alter-ego) even as inner-band turmoil, substance abuse and health crises threatened to tear down everything they'd built.
Order in Decline is the band's seventh record, coming on the heels of the 2016 "comeback" 13 Voices, and follows the more aggressive path taken by its predecessor. Whibley, who also produced, has really come into his own in the studio — this is a Big Rock Record (complete with a Big Rock Power Ballad in "Never There"). The guitars sound huge, the drums pummel, Whibley screams. A lot.
But where 13 Voices was fueled by the personal upheavals that came in the wake of singer-guitarist Deryck Whibley's hospitalization from liver and kidney failure, Order in Decline looks outward, drawing its ire from the state of the world.
There's certainly plenty of fuel for that fire, but Whibley has been careful not to call this a political record — inspired by, but not about. And there's the rub. Without a clear target, the rage feels empty, delivered without much imagination. In the band's prime, they could knock out hooky riffs and melodies in their sleep. Though heavier, and showcasing more technical dexterity than ever before, the riffs here are as ultimately forgettable as Whibley's melodies. "Never There," its big emotional centerpiece, is maudlin pap.
One of hard rock's greatest strengths is its malleability. It can be a great vehicle for delivering vital social commentary or it can be fun party music. In some of the best hands it can be both. Order in Decline does neither. It's an arrow without a target, piss with no vinegar. There's nothing here we haven't heard done better somewhere else. Sum 41 can and have done better. (Hopeless)