The Challenged - Relapse (Cover Artwork)

The Challenged

Relapse (2007)

Cabana 1

Remember that sunny Sunday afternoon you spent listening to your first punk record on your boombox when you were 13 and feeling like the world was right in front of you waiting to be explored? That's what listening to this album reminds me of.

The Challenged's Relapse is an east coast throwback to the Lookout! Records sound of the early `90s (think Kerplunk!-era Green Day and My Brain Hurts-era Screeching Weasel with brighter production). It's a refreshing listen as the Challenged know that that sound isn't so much about being original as it is just about having fun and writing tight, concise songs. The exuberant "Cost of Higher Education" and steady, mid-tempo underachieving anthem, "Today," exemplify just that, and help put Relapse head and shoulders above most pop-punk band's debut records.

This trend continues with the bouncy "Best Friend." The recurring line, "Ears that listen speak again / you're dead to me, you're dead to me" reeks of bitterness, but the kind of bitterness that sounds so glorious when mixed with a snotty, catchy melody.

The most smile-inducing part of Relapse comes when the band quote Mr. Blake Schwarzenbach in "Blabber": "I believe in the desperate acts / the kind that make you look stupid / that line was how I wanted my life since the first time I heard that song / it made my apathy seem like a commentary / not a lack of pride." It gives you a big sense of perspective on the band and a connection you don't find in many lyrics anymore.

Relapse delves into political territory with "Conventional" and "It's Obvious," which speak to the general complacency of American politics and the expected discontent it results in. "We Gratify Ourselves" closes the album out as a cliché yet welcomed ode to individuality (sample lyric: "We don't do this for you / we're addicted to the beat").

This is an exceptionally solid release and a surprising one for a full-length debut. Relapse doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it isn't a nostalgic look back in time, either. Rather, the Challenged present it simply as 12 cohesive songs that sound great together. And that's all you can ask for, really.