Smoking Popes - This Is Only a Test (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Smoking Popes

This Is Only a Test (2011)

Asian Man

With time comes wisdom, experience, and maturity. For This Is Only a Test, Smoking Popes' second studio album since reuniting in 2005 and sixth overall, the band have decided to eschew all that for an album dedicated to the exuberance of youth. This is a concept album written from the perspective of a teenage boy. Adolescence is all over this album, right down to the school bus on the cover. Lyrically, the album hits a lot the main points of one's high school years (getting mono; trying to make the team; the anxiety that arrives before leaving for college). In taking a youthful vantage point, a few of the songs end up sounding more like the bands they influenced than the Popes themselves (yes, I'm talking bout Bayside), but for the most part, they deliver.

Opener "Wish We Were" gets things off to an energetic start. The lyrics telling a tale of unrequited love and the buzzsaw guitars amount to one of the most straightforward pop-punk songs the band's ever written, and mid-album highlight "Freakin' Out" is an up-tempo rocker with Nirvana-esque verses that can sit proudly next to the Popes' best material.

Drummer Neil Hennessey doesn't get to show off as much as he does in the Lawrence Arms, but he does what the songs call for, and continues to prove himself as one of the most solid drummers in punk rock.

There are a few misfires on This Is Only a Test. I'm not sure what they were thinking with "Excuse Me, Coach", and I'm not sure I want to know. I don't listen to Smoking Popes for their dope electronic hip-hop beats and Casio keyboard parts.

Lyrically speaking, the album's concept is an interesting idea, and hearing what can only be interpreted as the Smoking Popes' origin story in "Punk Band" is intriguing, but it also leads to some moments that are downright cringeworthy: spoken-word verses in "Diary of a Teenage Tragedy", for example ("Dear Diary, today I saw the girl I‘m going to marry. We passed each other in the hall and when our eyes met, although no words were exchanged, something passed between us. Something undeniable and real."). The reality remains that the Caterer brothers are not high schoolers. Hearing a man in his late 30s sing about how he can't get a prom date is a little off-putting.

These are small complaints, though. Aside from a couple blunders, This Is Only a Test is a thoroughly enjoyable pop-rock album. At a brisk 10 songs totaling less than 40 minutes, it leaves you wanting more. Plenty to sing along to here. It's no Destination Failure, but hey, what is?