Sum 41- Order In Decline Review

For anyone who was a kid or a teenager in the aughts, Sum 41 was inescapable. The anthemic declarations of defiance in “Fat Lip”, “In Too Deep” and “Pieces” shot the band to the top of the pile of pop-punk acts channelling the anti-conformist sentiments of the Bush generation. While much of their catalogue back then was more everyman than it was political, in the succeeding decade it’s become harder to skirt around the issues of the day, which have erupted in a matter of years from mildly heated to red scorching hot.

Frontman Derick Whibley was one to acknowledge this fact as such, and reluctantly took a turn towards making a statement with Sum 41’s latest record, Order In Decline. Outside of its topical, political themes, the record is a big step in the shift of Sum’s musical direction from straight-ahead pop punk into a heavier metal and rock-infused sound. In times like these, it would indeed seem (and sound) naive to go about your joy-jumping, mall-punking day like there aren’t multiple fucking tornados spinning around outside your home. So that explains all that.

The darker, angrier tone is clear from the album’s inception: “Turning Away” starts with a fleeting moment of ominous, solitary piano before cracking into a full-fledged punk assault. A glaring loss of hope pervades the raging number: “…I feel like I can’t go on, while we’re living in this lie/And when all of my faith is gone, I don’t even want to try.” “Out For Blood” is no more optimistic, lashing ahead on overdrive and swearing a coming vengeance in the face of collapse and abandonment. The target of their vitriol remains faceless- at least on Tracks 1 and 2. “The New Sensation”, with the lines “If this will persist, then we will resist” and “…you can’t evolve by building up your walls” is a clear-cut swipe at America’s own Donald Trump and a declaration of allegiance with the “resistance” movement against him. Musically, it sounds out like a punked-up version of Muse’s 2009 hit “Uprising“. The shots fired here may be the first, but they won’t be the last on this album either.

Speak of the Donald!A Death In The Family” contains more lyrics that could quite easily be aimed at Trump: “You take this hate and package it to sell (to victims of your great divide)” but could be more broadly descriptive of the Boomer generation from which he hails: “Your fate is left to a different generation/You know they won’t be kind.” A point of sonic criticism thus far, to digress: it’s understandable that Sum 41 wanted to take a harder-edged approach to this record, but the shredding solos on the part of Dave “Brown Brigade” Baksh are utterly cliche and take away from the overall ripping effect of the album. It sounds like a kid that just got into rock and roll and metal overnight from three-chord punk and is trying way too hard to fit in. Thankfully, his wanking is contained to minimal flange bends on “Heads Will Roll”, and the mood doesn’t seem so sharply interrupted.

With “45 (A Matter Of Time)” there is no doubt of interpretation left as Whibley takes another opportunity to address the orange-skinned elephant in the room. While he claims that “A number is all you are to me”, Whibley’s avoidance of mentioning Trump by name could also be a reflection of his not wanting to go headlong into the political but feeling forced to do so. The righteous indignation quiets down to a familiar poppy gut-spilling akin to “Pieces” on “Never There”, providing a pleasant and necessary contrast to the rampaging cries of protest throughout most of the album. “Eat You Alive” cuts the reprieve off at the knees and snaps back into Sum’s new path of heavy-hybrid experimentation, musing in a less-than-sunny manner: “You always gotta pray for the pessimist/And these days seem the strangest existence.

Coming into the final stretch, “The People Vs…” is the last bullet in the clip against Trump, and possibly the most metal song that Sum 41 has ever conjured: On its face, it could fit in with any of Metallica’s cuts off Death Magnetic until Whibley’s snarling neo-Green Day vocals kick in. While it’s an impressive cut, the lyrical content at this point has to be addressed: Protest songs have always existed, that isn’t the issue. Four songs shitting on one guy in the same album though is excessive and obsessive, and to simply call him a “bad man” for lack of any better insult is a childlike way to denounce somebody. It’s not to defend “45”, but to merely be realistic: One fuck you out of 10 fuck offs on this record would be more than enough. Finally, the curtain call arrives with “Catching Fire”, and sits energetically at about a 6 between “Out For Blood”’s 10 and “Never There”’s 3. It’s a considerably tamer, more contemporary tune in comparison to most of what Sum 41 has had to offer on Order, but nevertheless a fitting and conclusive tune to end on. Acceptance, not anger in life and loss is Whibley’s parting message to the listening mass: “And if I failed you, well I swear I tried my best/And now you’re gone, so all your tears can lay to rest.

Order In Decline is ultimately a bold experiment in diversifying Sum 41’s sound and a firm foot in the mud in regards to speaking their minds. However, aspects of their toying with heavier sounds seem at this stage immature and need further work, and their diving into the political atmosphere only stays on the terrain of the expected and reasonable for so long before it turns into overkill. Nevertheless, it is an exciting and daring turn away from the Hot Topic innocence of All Killer, No Filler into something more full and meaningful. Let’s hope Sum 41 can keep growing, keep playing, and keep kicking up dust well into the 2020s and beyond.