There are some bands that undeniably rely on certain chemistry between the members. Some musicians--some friends--can just never be replaced. Example: Pennywise. I was never a huge Pennywise fan, but it was Jim Lindberg's band. He was a founding member, he had the distinct voice and he wrote most of the music and lyrics. Now that he's gone, I really couldn't give less of a shit about them.
Now, before I go any further, let me reassure that I am usually not one to judge a band on their members or any other exterior appearances. I only care about the music, and I like to think that I give every band a fair chance. And, let me also say that I am a big Sum 41 fan...er, well, was. 2002's Does This Look Infected? and 2004's Chuck are two of my favorite albums ever. However, Sum 41 is one of those cases where you just can't replace what's missing. Dave "Brownsound" Baksh left the group in mid-2006, and much like the hole he left in the band, there was a terrible void on their subsequent album, 2007's Underclass Hero. Follow-up Screaming Bloody Murder is, sadly, no exception.
The album's material was admittedly written when frontman Deryck Whibley was going through some very dark times (a divorce with Canadian pop rock songstress Avril Lavigne), and although they hired Gob singer/guitarist Thom Thacker to replace Baksh, from what I read, Thom only helped write maybe two tracks on this album. If true, that was a very poor decision on Deryck's part. He had already proven with Underclass Hero that he doesn't fully have what it takes to write a song that measures up to former Sum 41 glory by himself. I understand that much of the album is very personal, but it is a band, and it needs to function as so. Besides, why hire a new member and not utilize him? Who knows what he could have really brought to the table.
The definitively worst part of Screaming Bloody Murder is the lyrics. We've all been through heartbreak, and divorce can be devastating, but the lyrics come across as maybe Deryck took it a little harder than he should have. Songs like "Skumfuk," "Sick of Everyone" and "Blood in My Eyes" sound like pages out of the journal I kept in high school. They're littered with bad clichés, and it's almost pathetic how some of the lyrics come across, like he wrote down the first angry lines that came to mind and then jammed out an equally pissed-off song and called it a day. I know that tracks like "Fat Lip" and "Over My Head (Better Off Dead)" weren't the most verbose and poetic pieces out there, but at least they were saying something. Whereas, every track on Bloody Murder is the same teary-eyed, angry teenage boy screaming: "You broke my heart, I hate you!" Am I listening to Hawthorne Heights here? It's just a major letdown because, like I said, you know Deryck is capable of writing some decent lyrics, but it seems like he was either trying way too hard, or just plain didn't try at all. I could deal with a few badly written songs, but they're all pretty much interchangeable, and after you get about halfway through, it's relentless and annoying.
Musically, Screaming Bloody Murder is a step in the right direction and a big leap away from Underclass Hero. Its downfall, however, is that it's overproduced and the band went overboard with the piano and tempo changes. "Blood in My Eyes" could have been an awesome song, but there is just so much going on within it that it doesn't really know what direction to take and ends up falling apart. Sadly, that's how much of the album is--a lot of poorly developed ideas hastily clumped together. "Sick of Everyone" is another casualty. It starts out with an awesome Infected-esque intro and then falls into in an odd, ragtime-y piano riff. That's not what I want to hear from Sum 41, and it really shouldn't be a part of their sound. I'm all for some casual piano in the background to set the mood for a song or two, and I'll even forgive a piano ballad, but it shouldn't be the focus of nearly every song. The main problem is, Sum 41 really doesn't know how to utilize the instrument well enough to incorporate it into their sound.
I kind of dove into this album with big expectations, but in the back of my head, I knew I would be inevitably let down. I can't say that Screaming Bloody Murder is one of the worst albums I've ever heard, but it is definitely a major disappointment. It's presented with such urgency and bite that I kept listening and waiting for the album to pick up and get better, but all that it amounted to was a long-winded rant about a girl. It doesn't have much to say, and it doesn't have the same attitude or wit that previous Sum 41 releases maintained. The whole thing just seems so rushed, as though it was mere revenge--the faster they got it out, the faster Deryck could rub it in Avril's face. The entire album is basically Deryck whining, "You broke my heart and ruined my life, but now I'm moving on." The problem with that, though, is that after all is said and done, you still don't come to a resolution. It doesn't really seem like Deryck's moved on--he's just put up a bigger wall, and in turn, as the listener, you are stuck and you can't really progress into actually enjoying the album. It might please some of the die hard Sum fans, but otherwise, I'd give it a pass. Although, I will say is that this is a major upgrade from Underclass Hero, and what I think the band (especially Deryck) needs to do now is take a step back, cool off and get back to their roots before they make another record.