Calling Simple Plan a pop-punk band is unfair to both the genre and the band. Although the Canadian quintet have headlined Warped Tour, they’ve always been more of a pop band who happen to like blazing guitar riffs and chugging tempos. Exhibit A: Their biggest hits-“Perfect,” “Untitled (How Could This Happen To Me?)” and “Welcome To My Life”-fit like a glove on Top 40 radio. Exhibit B: They’re a staple of those stations’ holiday shows and last month played alongside kindred mall-dwelling spirits such as Avril Lavigne and Boys Like Girls.
In light of this proven crossover appeal, it’s entirely unsurprising Simple Plan enlisted some of pop music’s elite players to help produce their third album; among them, Dave Fortman (Evanescence, Mudvayne) and Max Martin (the man behind Kelly Clarkson’s “Since U Been Gone” and Britney Spears’ “Baby One More Time”). The pair’s influence is subtle: Despite glossier production, Pierre Bouvier’s passionate vocals remain rowdy (and nasally, although mercifully less so), and the band’s crunchy guitar stomps are distinctly Simple Plan.
If anything, Simple Plan’s songs just sound bigger. The starry-eyed romantic promise “I Can Wait Forever” is a piano-and-string ballad with a soaring (and amusingly Slash-like) guitar solo. “Love Is A Lie,” a wicked lyrical tale about a cheating partner, could be a Justin Timberlake song, with its acoustic-guitar spirals and trip-hop beats. The layers upon layers of harmonies on the epic rocker “Holding On” rival Fall Out Boy’s slickness.
But perhaps the band’s most interesting collaborator on Simple Plan is Nate “Danja” Hills, the white-hot Timbaland protégé who’s worked with Spears, Timberlake and Nelly Furtado. His distinctive electro-hip-hop touches give first single “When I’m Gone” a mature swagger, while “Generation” has a metal-hip-pop sheen; think Sum 41 doing a night of Backstreet Boys karaoke.
Does the Danja experiment work? “Generation” is by far the worst song on the album, mostly thanks to the way-cheesy, tinny trumpet line. Danja’s flourishes tend to distract rather than improve: The synth squelches of “When I’m Gone” feel tacked on, and “The End” resembles a non-goth AFI. More important, Simple Plan have never needed gimmicky production to craft solid songs. Witness the straightforward, mid-tempo rocker “Save You”-a tune Bouvier penned for his cancer-battling brother-that needs nothing but from-the-heart lyrics to succeed.
That song nails why Simple Plan are so popular: They’re authentic. This hasn’t changed on Simple Plan, which likely means those who aren’t already fans probably won’t fall in love with the band. But the release does establish Simple Plan as one of the most consistent acts making music today-in the genres of pop, punk, rock and all points in between. (LAVA/ATLANTIC) Annie Zaleski
Yellowcard’s Paper Walls
Boys Like Girls’ Boys Like Girls
The All-American Rejects’ Move Along
RELEASE DATE: Jan. 29
1. When I’m Gone
2. Take My Hand
3. The End
4. Love Is A Lie
5. Save You
7. Time To Say Goodbye
8. I Can Wait Forever
9. Holding On
10. No Love
11. What If