Not many punk bands would consider releasing concept albums (Green Day’s American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown in fact are the only ones that come to mind) but the band Smoking Popes figured out a way to make it work. They used a concept that only Smoking Popes could have pulled off, the story of an American high school teenager and his feelings on the chaos and confusion that is….well…the life of an American high school teenager.
This Is Only a Test, Smoking Popes second studio album since reuniting and the follow up to 2008s Stay Down, gets off to a good start with “Wish We Were,” which uses a theme all too familiar to high school teenage boys, unrequited love. It slows down a bit for the piano-introduced number “College” a first-person perspective of a boy that sees no future in becoming a slave to the man. It picks up immediately after with “Punk Band” another first-person perspective song of the boy deciding what he wants to do with his life, namely “living in a van” and “sleeping on the floor.” The rest of the album tells the rest of the story such as the boy trying out for, making, and ultimately regretting, the school football team and his continuing search for love.
Overall, I really like this album. I think the Popes have progressed quite nicely over the years. They have taken what they have done really well over the past 20 years, well-crafted, melodic, pop-punk songs and taken them to the next level.My personal favorites on the album are “Wish We Were” “This Is Only a Test” “College” “Punk Band” “Diary of a Teen Tragedy” and “Letter to Emily.”