There’s always a lot of debate regarding pop punk. Some say it’s punk rock with pop melody, others say it’s pop music, plain and simple. No matter which fork in the road you take, it’s in a constant cycle of revival. In the khaki-short mainstream, we’re defending pop punk. And in the ragged-edges of our jorts punk scene, we’re kind of doing the same thing.
We coin bullshit like ‘ramonescore’ so we don’t debase ourselves with words like ‘pop,’ but it’s no secret we love our music fast and catchy. Whatever you choose to call it, there’s music that is focused on looking back to the Descendents, Screeching Weasel, and the Queers. One of the latest to join the league are Toronto’s School Damage with their album Battered Lives.
Now, if we’re really tearing shit apart– how does a doubling-down on 90s pop punk differ from other pop punk bands (because splitting hairs is fun)? Well, the first thing that comes to mind while listening to Battered Lives is that the whole thing is very fast. This is a speedy little record, where the lyrics come so fast there’s little room to sing, let alone sustain notes. But while the band shares a bunch of similarities with the Lookout-era, it also has a decidedly modern spin lyrically. Much like Dillinger Four and Off With Their Heads, School Damage delve into adult angst. One of their best melodies accompanies the lyrics, “It’s fucked up, it’s over, you’ll never get your closure.” It’s a directive that cuts like a friend running down a list of your worst flaws.
Other lyrics look outward and perform well in their attack, as in “Finding Love in the Creepiest Places” where the narrator sings, “This situation’s got the best of me/ No one will fuck you quite as good as me.” In a way, it subverts some of the passive sexism of the old days of pop punk by singing the song through the eyes of an abusive spouse. In a different time and place, that lyric could’ve been the raised fist anthem of summer-clad punk teenagers anywhere, and the perspective would have been a scorned lover.
Battered Lives has a lot of the same problems that albums of its ilk share and the biggest is sonic diversity. School Damage largely play each and every song in a pretty similar style, and while some of the songs have enough head-turning lines to make it worth remembering a couple song titles, the rest blurs into a wash of power chords and short, punchy, snarled melodies. And even then, as is the case of “Detroit Rock Shitty,” the hook is repeated from a previous song. At best, this was a failed attempt at a leitmotif. At worst, lazy songwriting.
School Damage bring a decent amount to the table though, in terms of continuing the tradition of pop punk and at the end of the day. Battered Lives has some strong lyricism and a refreshingly fast pool of influences to draw on, but the same things that give them their loglines also give them their criticisms. The songs bleed into one another, and the vocal style, as it did with its progenitors, limit the songs dynamism. Still, Battered Lives is some fun summer pop punk with enough angst to make you feel adult while listening to it.