The Seven Basic Pop-Punk Songs

You may or may not have heard of a book called The Seven Basic Plots. According to Christopher Booker’s enormous tome, there are only seven basic plots in all of literature, and that everything else is just a derivative from those plots. Well, I’m here to tell you that actually, there are only really seven pop-punk songs. You’ve been to a pop-punk show, you own a Blink-182 album or two. You know it to be true! So without further ado, here’s the seven basic pop-punks and how to spot them.

1. Hometown Blues, Thy Name is Ennui

The first, and possibly the most recognisable pop-punk song, is the one about hating where you come from. And is this not something we’ve all experienced, predominately when we’re about 16 and it feels like the whole world outside of our suburban hellholes is just waiting to be discovered? Plenty of people have made a lot of money writing about this kind of disillusion.

This pop-punk can be flipped on its head as well, and the common theme of ‘I left but dammit, I miss everything and I want to go home to my mum where everything is nice and simple forever’ isn’t exactly uncommon either. And just occasionally, you’ll find both sides slammed into the same song, which is really what it all ends up as when you’re a little bit older and wiser and not just pretending to be a teenager for the record label.

Top pop-punks: Simple Plan – I’m Just A Kid, Good Charlotte – Waldorfworldwide, Count To Four – Lavender Town (actually, this one is basically ALL of these pop-punks in one)

2. That Girl Ripped My Heart Out of My Chest and Pissed On It

Pop-punk found its roots in songs about girls. Descendents built pretty much a whole career on writing albums about their feelings, and Blink-182 perfected it on their classic track ‘Dammit’. And let’s face it, a pop-punk album wouldn’t be the same without a track about how a girl (or well, anyone really) totally broke the singer’s heart and how everything sucks.

Unfortunately, these days, there’s a lot of pop-punk bands who don’t know how to write about anything else, or how to acknowledge that actually, there might be some problems that are their own fault too and not just their lovers. Buuuuut sometimes, when you feel like you’ll be broken forever, there’s nothing like falling back on some good old-fashioned rage. It’s impossible to find a record that doesn’t have traces of heartbreak hidden all over it, or splashed wildly across it.

Top pop-punks: Real Friends – I’ve Given Up On You, Fall Out Boy – Sending Postcards From a Plane Crash (Wish You Were Here), Never Heard Of It – She’s A Dick

3. Positive Mental Attitude, Brah

Hey! Keep your chin up! Do something cool! It’s all about the PMA, dude. And pop-punk has got plenty of it. Far less anger about real important things than straight up punk, but with a sense of fun that punk can easily forget, pop-punk provides the great middle way, full of sugary, colourful fun. If pop-punk was a drink, it’d be orange soda, and not the diet kind.

These are my favourite kind of pop-punk tracks. They’re full of fun and life. These are the kind of tracks that pick me up when I’m down. They keep me on course, and they keep me thinking posi. And that’s what it’s all about. Keep it real, yo!

Top pop-punks: Millencolin – No Cigar, New Found Glory – Selfless, The Movielife – Me And You Vs Them

4. Hanging With The Bros Forever and Ever

It’s time to head out on tour and get crazy! There might lots of drinking, or even a few illicit narcotics, but there’s absolutely bound to be mad hijinks, skateboarding injuries and a prison trip. You guessed it – our next pop-punk trope is about hanging with your bros.

If there’s one thing pop-punk does well, it’s solidarity. All that bitching about your hometown and wasted opportunities just melts away into the background when your friends come into the mix. Just don’t forget that chicks can be bros too.

Top pop-punks: Set Your Goals – Summer Jam, Blink-182 – Reckless Abandon, Mest – Rooftops

5. I’m In Love and I Don’t Care Who Knows It

Of course, before all the torment and the heartbreak, there has to be love. And a good pop-punk love song has absolutely no competition. Pure of heart with loads of melody, you can’t help but feel swept up in a romance that isn’t even yours. And if you are madly in love, then every single song describes how you feel, because they’re way more real and appropriate than anything the Beatles did, or anything in a musical, right?

As one of the happier pop-punk tropes, it’s also one of my top ones. I’ve had a pop-punk romance playlist going since about 2005 and I’ve got no sign of slowing that down.

Top pop-punks: Sugarcult – Lost In You, Say Anything – Crush’d, Candy Hearts – I Miss You

6. I’m Just In Touch With My Feelings, Jeez!

Pop-punk can be deep too, you know. It can reach down into the very essence of human emotion and get all introspective and speculative. Don’t you even accuse it of being pretty and vacuous. Of course, it’s not as brainy as emo, and many of pop-punk’s graduating class (like Brand New, and if anyone says the first record isn’t pop-punk, I’ll fight you) have moved onto bigger, more serious art forms.

However, something neat tends to happen when pop-punk gets serious. Whether it’s battling personal demons, figuring out where it all went wrong or even just trying to decide where to turn to next, a lot of bands tend to turn out some of their best stuff when they start to think a little left-field. And that’s why we’ll never get a decent All Time Low record.

Top pop-punks: Descendents – When I Get Old, Amber Pacific – Follow Your Dreams Forget The Scene, Green Day – Redundant

7. I Hate Everything. Even That Puppy. And Your Mum.

Despite the assumption that pop-punk is a happy genre full of bouncy songs and floppy haircuts, it’s often filled with a lot of rage as we’ve seen above. However, a lot of the time, that rage is simply directed towards anyone and everything, because let’s face it – everything sucks.

Bands like Descendents absolutely own tracks like this, but they do it in a way that isn’t cliché or overstated, opting for a bit of humour instead. Of course, you can go the other way entirely, but virtually everyone knows ‘I’m Not A Loser’ and can’t remember the name of that song by those dudes who supported New Found Glory one time, so I guess they can suck it.

Top pop-punks: Say Anything – Hate Everyone, Descendents – Everything Sucks, Midtown – Empty Like The Ocean

Don’t get me wrong – for all my gentle mocking, I love a lot of pop-punk. But I’m yet to truly uncover a pop-punk track that doesn’t somehow fit into these broadly termed categories. Go on, pop-punk kids of the internet – prove me wrong. Write me a song that doesn’t fit into emotions typically associated with being in your teens or twenties. Or, if you’ve found another basic pop-punk trope, stick your answers on a postcard and email them to! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to put the entire New Found Glory discography on repeat forever and ever and ever.

The Rise of the EP (and Why It’s Bad for Bands)

I think we can all agree that Bandcamp is a fairly wonderful thing. In our digital age, record labels no longer carry the power that they once did, so being able to put your music up at a price you control (or not, as you may prefer) is actually pretty fantastic. Streaming services like Spotify or Pandora, and even competing websites like SoundSupply and NoiseTrade, just don’t come close to the honest, flexible and simple format that Bandcamp provides. Indeed, where record labels have fallen down, Bandcamp’s put power back into the hands of the artist.

But what do 90% of them do with this power? Release EP after bloody EP after bloody EP.

We do a lot of reviews on here – in fact, we do more reviews than anything else because we get sent a lot of stuff by a lot of cool people. But the vast majority of our reviews are EPs, and the vast majority of promos we get sent are for EPs. Of course, we get sent a number of full albums too, but they don’t always get picked up first off the review queue because the time involved in reviewing them is longer. The reason for this is because the ideas presented in these records is often more complex, and there are often ties that bring songs together in ways that usually can’t be achieved in a shorter piece of work. In brief, it’s more effort to review an album because more effort’s gone into it. It’s not always the case, of course – there are plenty of albums rife with filler tracks and wasted opportunities – but on the whole, you’re going to find yourself with a record with growth potential. My concern with consecutive EP releases is that there’s no room to grow. Inevitably, those bands will fade out into nothing.

I’ve been going deep into nostalgia city lately, digging into the Long Island scene of the early 2000s. Plenty of bands who were part of that have been lost to the passage of time, but there’s two bands that instantly stand apart – Brand New and Taking Back Sunday. Rivalry notwithstanding, I genuinely believe that they’ve managed to keep going for over ten years with the same level of popularity because they had the opportunity to make great albums. It’s a different climate these days, admittedly – most bands these days are still working day jobs, touring opportunities are becoming less and less and nobody actually buys your CD any more (to be honest, don’t bother with CDs – vinyl or tapes are way more punk). EPs can be a great way to get noticed at first, but who still listens to the self-titled Taking Back Sunday EP or Brand New’s first demo? No, the records that we remember are Tell All Your Friends and Your Favourite Weapon, because they had room to grow. They provided the springboard for each band to develop new ideas, and by the time it came to record number two, their sound was more mature, more daring in places, and ultimately far more interesting than their humble beginnings. Putting out an EP that sounds exactly the same to your last one might keep your existing fans happy, but it’s not a surefire way of getting you new ones.

I’ve already forgotten the names of most of the pop-punk bands flooding into my inbox. Unless the record in question was really dire, I often can’t recall if we’ve covered it before without a gentle nod and a quick search through my Gmail. And the reason is because I’m presented with four tracks that don’t have much variation, either musically or in lyrical themes. These four tracks don’t sound wildly different to the other band I wrote about the week before, who also supplied four tracks with little difference in musical style and lyrical prowess. Usually, it’s not unlistenable – a quick three out of five, you’ll probably like it but you just won’t remember it after two weeks, enough said. However, with a little time, focus and ambition, most of these bands could easily become so much more.

I understand the appeal of EPs from a financial point of view. Less tracks to record and mix means that there’s less money to pay upfront. As a crowdfunding endeavour, you’ve got to raise less money, and when it gets to the end of it all, offering something at a lower price point means that people are more likely to pay for it. It’s a sad truth that people are less than willing to give a few quid up for a record they’ll play over and over again, and instead, they’ll sink that money into a few drinks on a night out. With an EP, you’ve got a greater chance of getting your investment back. I also understand that an EP takes a lot less time to put together and practise – with busy work schedules and the threat of every day life, I suppose it gets a little dull and a little impractical to try and create something bigger. But maybe, just maybe, it’s worth taking the risk and instead of doing that follow-up EP to your last two EPs, dare to do something a little differently.

There’s a few bands taking the EP approach and turning it on its head. Red Seas Fire, for example, are releasing a series of EPs over the course of a year which are all linked by a unifying theme. You can see a progression through the first two, and in fact, by releasing it in chunks (which will then later be combined into one record), they’re creating a lot of anticipation for their next release. Clever. Chronographs, on the other hand, are taking it to the extreme with single releases each month. Seeing as the band are split so far apart these days, they’re recording one song at a time and then releasing it, and they’re doing this for an entire year. It’s a bold move, and while I don’t necessarily agree with their musical transition – personally, I think that giving up the tech-metal was a real shame – I do think that their single-per-month idea has a lot of merit. In this case, they can evaluate whether a track worked or not and try a different approach next month if it didn’t. Like Red Seas Fire, it gives them the opportunity to remind their fans that they’re still around, and it allows them to generate continuous press interest. I also can’t think of anyone else who’s done it, which instantly gives them originality points. In the absence of time and a record label (and it’s not like they really give bands much funding these days – the average advance from an established label doesn’t cover living costs at all, and smaller, independent labels merely remove distribution and potential publicity costs… some of the time), there has to be a better way than the EP overload, and these guys have found a way around it.

Maybe the next generation prefers this non-permanence, always searching for something new, but me? I remember albums. Nothing beats the joy of listening to a record over a car journey (and having it last for a car journey, for a start) and being able to pick apart the best bits. Nothing beats that moment at a gig when a band picks your favourite track from album number three and the whole room goes batshit insane. Nothing beats hearing that story, or that emotion, evolve over 10–15 tracks, and feeling it all come together at once as the final song hits. That’s when music excites me. I’m not against EPs as a whole – they’re a great starting point, a handy stopgap between other records or a good opportunity to try out the unknown – but they shouldn’t be a band’s sole output.

If I could say just one thing to the bands who approach me asking for a write-up, it’d be to slow down. It can be tempting to try and get your name out there as soon as possible, but it’s worth taking the time to explore your sound and really discover what makes you unique. Don’t panic about being forgotten too quickly – if you’ve made something memorable, and you’re smart about your single releases and PR campaign, chances are that you’re going to be recognised a lot more readily than you think. And above all else? Don’t do a fucking mini-album.

From Chicago Softcore to Arena Tours: Can Fall Out Boy Still Be Punk?

I went to go see Fall Out Boy last month. This probably doesn’t come as much as a surprise to anyone who knows me, or anyone who reads this zine/blog/collaborative punk rock endeavour on the regular. The number of times that I’ve seen Fall Out Boy live throughout the years has clocked into the double digits, only beaten by New Found Glory’s insane touring repertoire. But last month, it was the first time I’d ever seen them take to an arena stage, and for me, the magic had gone.

There’s a light on in Chicago, but nobody’s home any more.

Fall Out Boy were probably in the best form they’ve been in for years. Patrick’s weight loss is more than just cosmetic – he can sing without losing his breath, and he dives around the stage like a charismatic little maniac. He has, finally, become the frontman he always should have been. Joe’s still an absolute hero, pulling off sweet guitar solos like nothing else matters, and Andy’s Andy; a vegan straight-edge no-nonsense motherfucker who gets down to business. Pete looked a little weathered, and the realisation that the entire front four rows are just screaming teenage girls meant that he didn’t dive into the crowd for ‘Saturday’ like before, but hey, we’ve all got to grow up sometime, and there’s still a little bit of that devilish charm left in our boy Wentz. Perhaps that’s it – Fall Out Boy are finally grown-ups, and Pete is no longer Peter Pan; those tired eyes are no longer hidden behind smeared black eyeliner. This added maturity obviously isn’t bad at all, and Save Rock and Roll is an extremely accomplished album. Ten solid slices of radio-friendly rock gold (and ‘Save Rock and Roll’ but we don’t talk about that), all tied together with one weird video concept, which actually made a great backdrop for the night. The stage at the NIA was backed by a huge array of screens, showing various bits from the Save Rock and Roll videos. They played a couple of token tracks off Take This to Your Grave. There was a good selection off From Under the Cork Tree. In theory, it had the makings to be one of the better sets I’ve seen from Fall Out Boy, but I left feeling a little bit empty. It’s not their fault; they’ve just moved on.

From Under The Cork Tree hasn’t hit the fire just yet, but it’s only a matter of time.

To truly understand why this hurts, you have to realise what a huge part of my adolescence Fall Out Boy were. I didn’t have a great amount of friends in high school. I was the school goth for a while, and after that, I was just another loser. The friends that I did have didn’t quite get my love of punk rock, black metal and Japanese pop music. There was one boy who did, and he pretty much took my heart and stomped on it, over and over. But Fall Out Boy were always there for me. Pete’s perfect poetry and Patrick’s dulcet tones carried me through, and I developed a fervour for them that even my adoration of AFI didn’t quite match. My love affair with AFI is a lifelong, consistent dedication – always there, burning slowly in the background. My obsession with Fall Out Boy was more like young love; it hit me fast and hard. I made friends with a bunch of people on online forums who felt the same, and when I felt lost, they were always there for me. My sister and I went to as many FOB shows as our parents would drive to, and we would sit wide-eyed in the back seat on the way home, awestruck by what we’d just witnessed. It’s not necessarily that FOB were technically that good (as a live band, they seriously took it up a notch at the NIA last month, but I’ve seen them just going through the motions before), but we always felt at home in those festival crowds, at those London venues, and we screamed the lyrics until we couldn’t scream any more.

I sang a little at the show last month. I mouthed the words a bit. I’m not totally jaded; give me a sweaty punk rock basement show and I’ll throw down with the best of them. Eyeliner can always be reapplied, clothes can always be changed, but the spark that the right show can ignite is priceless and dangerous. There’s a reason why punk rock and authority have never been great bedfellows. Fall Out Boy no longer ignite that spark in me. In a huge arena, denim vests covered in Fall Out Boy patches sell for £50, and boys in SoulCal polo shirts shrug when the show ends on ‘Saturday’. Middle-aged women who heard ‘Young Volcanoes’ on Radio 1 dance drunkenly around me, and there’s a girl in a Ramones t-shirt that didn’t recognise ‘Sheena is a Punk Rocker’ when they played it through the PA before the set started. I can’t say that Fall Out Boy sold out; who am I to deny them the success that they completely deserve? Moving on musically increased their popularity phenomenally after the trainwreck that was Folie a Deux (I mean seriously, what the hell was that), and Save Rock and Roll is still a great album, even if it lacks the emotional depth and the youthful arrogance of its predecessors. And I don’t want to be elitist; I don’t want to claim FOB for myself and teenage girl misfits everywhere. I just want to feel something when I listen to their records. I just want to feel connected when I see them up on that stage. I just want to feel unafraid and reckless.

Instead, I felt very alone that night, awash in a sea of perfectly practised motions. My boyfriend provided a much-needed lifeline (and he let me rant as much as my brain could handle) but Fall Out Boy are no longer the heroes I need. They may have saved rock and roll, and they once stirred my young and fragile heart, but they’ve gone onto bigger and better things. It takes something different to light that fire in the core of my soul now, but it burns stronger than ever. Thanks for the memories; they were truly great, but memories are now all they are.

Metal and religion: sworn enemies or friends with benefits?

Is enjoying heavy metal at odds with being religious, or are they just misunderstood friends? Well, plenty of people seem to think the former must be true: “How can you listen to music like that, didn’t you say you were a Christian?!”

I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had that reaction from friends, mostly followed by them either taking the piss out of me for my love of metal or my being vaguely religious, and recently it has got me wondering – what is the place of religion in metal? It’s no surprise that a lot of metal is pretty anti-religious, seeing as metal is more largely anti-conformist, and it’s not difficult to find anti-religious sentiments spread throughout the genre, from the more subtle references to the openly satanic ‘Antichrist Superstar’ by Marilyn Manson or ‘Shepherd of Fire’ from Avenged Sevenfold.

Is it okay for metal to rubbish religion? I’m all game for freedom of speech, but something does seem wrong about demeaning people just because of their religion. I love metal’s ‘fuck you and fuck what you think’ attitude, even when it’s aimed directly at religion, but only when it’s used in a positive way. “Fuck what you think, this is how we are and we like it” – this is the sort of message that unites fans and makes people feel accepted. I shudder to say it, but it’s the sort of message that has been so successful for Black Veil Brides. When it’s just discriminatory the message only succeeds in being insanely hypocritical – “fuck religion for being intolerant and aggressive”. If you’re going to be totally intolerant of intolerance and aggressive towards aggression, then you’re headed for chaos. Have people learned nothing from Martin Luther King?!

Turn it around though, and you can argue that it’s equally unfair for religion to rubbish metal – it’s the same hypocritical stereotyping and alienation. I vaguely remember the previous pope coming out and saying that all heavy metal and the like was sinful – a pretty stupid and unfair thing to say. Especially since, to tip the scale back, there are quite a few well supported and (relatively) successful Christian metal bands out there: The Devil Wears Prada, Underoath and August Burns Red to name a few. There’s no reason that metal and religion need to be at odds with each other.

Religion isn’t and shouldn’t be untouchable and music is a good avenue to criticise and support it, without having to be extreme and hate-mongering either way. A good current example of this is Architects’ ‘Broken Cross’ – which guitarist Tom came out to defend after it was roundly criticised by certain people of a religious persuasion: “To say ‘Religion is rubbish’ or ‘God is bad’ would be rather reductive, wouldn’t it? Let’s face it, religion is an unimaginably multifaceted beast, there’s plenty of good guys and bad guys”. I couldn’t have put it better myself!

I’m going to go ahead and repeat a little more of what Tom said, because he really hits the point I’m trying to make: “For millions (probably billions) I’ve no doubt that religion serves as a peaceful influence in their lives and that’s fantastic! But the moment others are outcast for their race, gender, sexuality and yes, even religion – well that just gets my goat. And I have no apologies for being upset about that.” The same goes for metal. There shouldn’t be any place in this world for marginalising and discriminating against people just because of who they are and the life they live.

So what am I saying? Simply, don’t be a dick and just be happy with your fellow earth dwellers. That’s not said as a Christian, or as a metal-er, just as common-fucking-sense. Another great example of this message, delivered by a band who I’m much happier to talk about than Black Veil Brides, is from Bury Tomorrow. When I happily moshed around at one of their gigs in Liverpool, screamer Dani Winter-Bates took the time between songs to tell everyone to just be happy and appreciative: “You can tell me you love Bieber and I’ll still shake your hand”. I think we can all agree, that’s pretty bloody tolerant.

Like any art, metal is there as freedom of expression – it can criticise religion and I can still enjoy it, just as I can enjoy ‘Mutter’ by Rammstein, even though I get on pretty well with my own mother. Stereotyping and aiming to be offensive to any group is out of order though – we can make quality music without needing to be dicks to each other.

Whatever happened to tickets on the door? AKA why is my bank balance so sad?

I have a bit of a music habit. I think that’s become evident across the five years (!) that this website’s been running. A very big part of this is going to see bands live. I do at least one festival a year, I go to as many local shows as I can and I probably go to at least two ‘big’ shows a month in one of the cities nearby. There’s nothing better than seeing one of your favourite bands tear it up on the stage, or to discover a great new band in a dingy little shithole of a venue. That being said, local shows aside, it’s an expensive hobby. You can expect to pay anywhere between £13 and £28 per ticket for a gig at the Birmingham O2 Academy, and that’s without booking fees on top. And these days, they’re not even giving us a chance.

Last week, the Pop Punk’s Not Dead tour got announced. And a few days after it got announced, tickets went on sale for that tour. Admittedly, you’re getting a lot of bands for your buck, with New Found Glory, The Story So Far, Candy Hearts and Only Rivals, with more acts to be confirmed. The gig’s over eight months away, in bloody November, but is likely to sell out quickly due to the hype generated by Kerrang, Rock Sound et al. Did I feel pressured into buying tickets now? Yes. And I’m not sure we should be operating like that any more.

The first time I went to see New Found Glory, it only cost me £13 and my dignity, as I went batshit crazy to Hit or Miss.

It’s totally not fair to announce a tour like this and put tickets on sale so soon after. The festivals have already started taking note, announcing their line-ups nice and early before tickets go on sale, and other gig promoters need to do the same. I’m lucky in that I’m an adult with a full-time job, and I usually have a bit of cash set aside, but this tour is exactly the kind of tour that the teens are going to go gaga for. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t generate demand, but it means that there’s a lot of people going to miss out, and not just that, but it means you can’t just stroll in on chance any more.

I miss door tickets, and I’m sad that most of the young music fans these days are going to miss out on the experience of heading into a ‘big’ show on a whim and discovering something incredible. But after all, when record sales are falling, the labels have got to make that cash somehow – pre-ordered tickets are a guaranteed way of doing so. There is one thing that we can do though. Get down to your local and support your scene. There’s plenty of fantastic music popping up, even in middle England. In Worcester, we’ve got the excellent Surprise Attacks series, amongst others, and it’s not even hosted in a seedy venue! If you ignore the folk epidemic in Cheltenham, there’s a swiftly growing punk scene and plenty of ace bands coming through on a regular basis. Just listen for the whispers, click the ‘attending’ buttons on Facebook, pay your three quid on the door and put your middle finger up to the big guys. Unless, of course, AFI tour again any time soon.