Epitaph dropped its second comeback album of 2009 this month with New Found Glory’s Not Without a Fight. Now, it’s not NFG’s best (that would be either Nothing Gold Can Stay or New Found Glory; take your pick). But it’s the sort of catchy, modest success that’ll remind fans why they loved the band in the first place. Lyrically, the record is a bit darker than the average NFG anti-love song. The band’s hardcore roots are slightly more prevalent, at least to the extent that there are way more gang vocals. But mostly, it’s just a great NFG pop-punk record, uncomplicated and ready to rock.
The album’s packaging promises that “the undisputed heavyweight champions of pop punk are back,” and for the first half, that sounds totally accurate. “Right Where We Left Off” lives up to its name, delivering the same driving pop-punk of The Tip of the Iceberg EP, only better. “Don’t Let Her Pull You Down” is another rocker, every bit as catchy as “My Friends Over You” or “Hit or Miss.” Same goes for lead single “Listen to Your Friends,” a ribald tale of poor life decisions that warns listeners to always heed their friends’ advice when dating batshit insane curb-stompers. Past and future blink-182 member Mark Hoppus feels barely present in the producer role. Not Without a Fight is crisp but not overproduced. The record occasionally comes out a little dry -- like a really, really good demo -- but as a whole, the album is rocking in its stripped-down format, a complete reversal from the overstuffed Coming Home album.
The lyrics are still pretty juvenile, though, so if you never liked NFG before, chances are slim that this will change your mind. Clichés abound with lines like “serious like a heart attack” and “It’s time I rain on your parade.” But frontman Jordan Pundik sings it so gosh dang well. I hate championing music whose message I don’t really care about, but Not Without a Fight is too infectious to ignore. That said, another turn-off for some might the album’s slightly soggy middle. “47” is an early weak point, as is the unremarkable “I’ll Never Love Again.” “Reasons” is a ballad, and that’s just not something NFG was ever good at. The band has always been slightly hokey; “Reasons” tips into the negative.
However, these lesser tracks are broken up by songs like “Truck Stop Blues,” a poppy tour song, and “Tangled Up,” which takes all of the frustration of “I’ll Never Love Again” and adds a kickass mall-punk chorus. So while Not Without a Fight isn’t a perfect record, it never lulls for too long. It’s a 12-song collection, 36 minutes long, and extremely satisfying for old and new fans alike. This album dropped the same day as Cursive’s Mama, I’m Swollen and Propagandhi’s Supporting Caste, and I feel no shame in labeling Not Without a Fight as my favorite release of that week. The guys in NFG have always been great pop songwriters with a punk bent, and even after their major label fallout, they’re still crafting jawsome jams six albums in.