The Bombpops - Death in Venice Beach (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Bombpops

Death in Venice Beach (2020)

Fat Wreck

Since I first heard the early EPs by The Bombpops I’ve had one common refrain about them: they’re good, but they’re nowhere near where they’re going to be. There’s so much potential in this band that’s clearly yet to be realized, with their first LP, Fear of Missing Out, being more of a demonstration of untapped potential than anything else. Their pop-punk style gave us some raging guitar riffs but underwhelming pop hooks and shallow but clever lyrics celebrating the band’s debaucherous lifestyle. Their subsequent EP, Dear Beer mostly felt like treading water in the shallow end with a less interesting rehash of the FOMO style. But I’ve always maintained that The Bombpops are destined for greatness, they just have a little growing up to do first. But on Death in Venice Beach, The Bombpops may still have a little ways to go before they achieve the levels of greatness that I know they’re destined for, but the album is a huge step towards reaching that point, as Death in Venice Beach shows much stronger pop sensibilities mixed with some hard rocking punk music, and a much darker and introspective set of lyrics that shows a daring vulnerability that was missing from Fear of Missing Out.

The promotional material we got for the album tells us the story or how co-frontwoman, Poli van Dam, ended up in rehab in the process of recording the album, which sets the whole record in a different light of essentially being the story of the trip to rock bottom, with the Van Dam’s hopeful recovery as the album’s unspoken epilogue. The most poignant song about this downward spiral is “13 Stories Down” whose slick and catchy pop-punk style belie the darkness of the lyrics, particularly the darkly comical refrain of “I’m not an alcoholic, I just play one on the weekends” which could have come off as a cheap play on and old cliché, but which is somehow redeemed by its earnest delivery. However nothing is quite as dark and eerily haunting as the closing track, “Southbound Stranger” where the song ends on a sole, undistorted guitar with the lyrics: “I bought a gun/Not sure if I know how to use one/They tell me that there’s nothing to it/Just pull the trigger you can do it…”

While the album is pretty dark, there are some surprising funny moments, like the piano sing-along preceding “House Fire” and the clip of one of the band members threatening to quit the band that plays just before “Can’t Come Clean.” “House is on Fire” and “In the Doghouse” show the band’s inherent talent for extended metaphor and bizarre imagery, including the former song’s disturbing image of “Welcome to my house/Fat Mike wears latex during foreplay.” The single “Double Arrows Down,” talks about Van Dam’s struggles with diabetes and the diabetic seizure she suffered on tour, and it’s discussed in the most frank and vulnerable way possible. The other lead single, “Notre Dame,” is far less of a remarkable tune and not a great example of what this album is.

Despite the dark and introspective lyrics, musically the album is a very upbeat pop-punk record, which is my favorite kind of musical irony: dark lyrics with lighthearted music. The Bombpops’ style of pop-punk is not breaking any molds, but it certainly shows an increase in technical skill and talent for pop hooks. So what you end up with is a deeply vulnerable and bravely introspective record that blows Fear of Missing Out out of the water. I still think they’re going to be a much better band someday than they currently are, but they’ve taken a big enough step in the right direction. I’m more sure than ever that they’ll reach the levels of greatness they’ve always been destined for. With one frontwoman in rehab, maybe the next album becomes about the difficult road to recovery and, if that’s the case, I can’t wait for that album.