A look back on 10 classic pop punk bands’ “mature” albums
This edition of ‘In Defense of the Genre’ takes a look at ten times where a classic pop punk band ditched the youthful sounds that made them famous and released a “mature” album. I examine how those albums were received, what they did for the band’s career, and how they hold up today.
Mark Hoppus sang “I guess this is growing up” on the same album that featured multiple toilet humor skits and a song called “Dick Lips,” and two years later he asked “What’s my age again?” and claimed “nobody likes you when you’re 23″ as he himself had just turned 27. In my preamble to ‘In Defense of the Genre,’ I wrote that I take issue with the idea that pop punk is something you have to grow out of, but there’s no denying that there’s often something obviously juvenile about it. Bands in this world often start out very young, and even if you still listen to these bands into adulthood, you probably got into them when you were young too. Just look at who attends your average Emo Nite; it’s not a bunch of 50 year olds reliving their mid-30s.
Pop punk bands may tend to start out young, but the genre has now been a popular form of rock music for over 25 years (and has existed for even longer than that) and a lot of the bands have been around for that amount of time or more. There are definitely some Peter Pans out there, but a lot of times, once a pop punk band’s been around for a while, they “grow up” and start listening to The Beatles or The Kinks or Fleetwood Mac or something and want to make an album that reflects where they’re at as people, and not just cater to the next generation of 15 year olds attending Warped Tour (RIP). Especially in a genre where the main demographic is teenagers, making an album that’s deliberately not aimed at teenagers is always a toss-up. Sometimes, pop punk bands would release a “mature” album and then go right back to being Peter Pans. Other times, they’d break up shortly after it (and then, as bands do, probably come back a few years later). Sometimes the “mature” album permanently alters the trajectory of the band’s career, and in rarer occasions it becomes one of the band’s most widely-loved works. And in all of the above cases, it can make people ask, “that’s [insert pop punk band here]?”
For this article, I’m exploring this phenomenon by taking a look back at ten “mature” albums by classic pop punk bands. Since lists will always prompt questions about who was eligible, here’s some of the criteria: To qualify as “classic,” you had to release at least one significant work at some point during pop punk’s dominant era (let’s say 1994 to 2005). You had to be most known as a pop punk band, so no bands with comparatively obscure pop punk pasts like the Goo Goo Dolls or The Lemonheads, and no non-pop punk bands from the “pop punk scene” like The Format or Socratic or The Hush Sound. The “mature” album has to be from the same band, not a related project, so no Taking Back Sunday/Straylight Run or Movielife/Nightmare of You, for example. And the line between the band’s more youthful pop punk era and the “mature” album has to be clear, so nothing from bands like Say Anything or Jimmy Eat World who went through obvious evolutions but were always more than “pop punk” and never really made a jarring pivot. You might argue that some of those examples should fit this criteria and/or that some of my picks don’t fit it, or that I’m leaving off a glaring omission or two, but this is just one person’s opinion and ten is a small number so feel free to leave any additions or complaints in the comments.
Read on for the list, in chronological order…
Green Day – Warning (2000)
Green Day already began distancing themselves from pop punk on 1997’s Nimrod (with songs like “Time of Your Life” and “King for a Day”), but that album still had enough songs to keep it rooted within the genre (like “Nice Guys Finish Last” and “The Grouch” and “Platypus”). But by its 2000 followup Warning — released a year after blink-182’s Enema of the State made pop punk bigger than ever — Green Day all but abandoned the genre entirely. Distorted power chords were replaced by acoustic and clean electric guitars, and the result was a largely folk and jangle pop record that pulled from The Beatles, The Kinks (the title track is an obvious homage to “Picture Book”), Bob Dylan (the harmonica-fueled folk-pop of “Hold On”), and other more classic, more “adult” music. “Waiting” has hints of “Do You Want to Dance,” and it sounds more like The Beach Boys’ version than the Ramones’. “Misery” found Green Day doing their most genuine interpretation of gypsy music, complete with accordion, horns, strings, organ, and a mandolin solo from Billie Joe Armstrong. The only thing that really kept the album sounding like Green Day at all was Billie Joe’s unmistakable sneer.
Despite producing some hits (the title track, “Waiting,” and what is the album’s best song, “Minority”), Warning was divisive at the time. It got mixed reviews, wasn’t as popular as the band’s ’90s hits or as some of the other pop punk bands who were starting to eclipse them (like blink-182, who they toured with while supporting this album), and it was followed by a long period without new music that included a best-of and a rarities compilation. At the time, it looked like the end. As we know now, it obviously wasn’t. With its Pop Punk Goes The Who approach and easily digestible critiques of the George W. Bush era, American Idiot reinvented the band as rock opera stars and made them even more famous than they were in the Dookie era. For better or for worse (probably worse), Idiot sent Green Day on the trajectory they’re still on today. And in hindsight and in comparison to some of the eye-rolling music they’ve released in Idiot‘s wake, Warning has kind of emerged as a dark horse of Green Day’s discography. Even the political commentary of “Minority” isn’t nearly as heavy-handed as the stuff that came after, and Warning overall is sort of this humble, tucked-away gem with some of the sweetest melodies Billie Joe ever wrote. They’re officially dad rock these days, so it’s not like they ever fell into the usual stunted-growth pop punk trap, but they also never returned to the breezy, jangly sounds of their first venture into maturity. Warning remains a one-of-a-kind album in their discography.
The Get Up Kids – On A Wire (2002)
The Get Up Kids were already leaders of the ’90s Midwest emo scene before Enema of the State brought pop punk to a wider audience than ever in 1999, but you’d be forgiven for thinking TGUK’s own 1999 album Something to Write Home About was just the latest album to ride Enema‘s coattails. (When in fact it’s a classic of both emo and pop punk and TGUK’s best work.) The Get Up Kids probably didn’t want to be associated with the TRL-ification of punk, so instead of writing another album like Something to Write Home About, its followup was a complete 180 that sounded more like Wilco’s alt-country, R.E.M.’s jangle, and Beatlesque piano pop than anything you’d call pop punk or emo. (It also wasn’t out of nowhere; co-frontman Matt Pryor was already exploring these sounds in his underrated side project The New Amsterdams and even Something To Write Home About had some ballads that hinted at On A Wire.) As is often the case when pop punk/emo bands pivot to a more indie rock-friendly sound, The Get Up Kids couldn’t catch a break. Get Up Kids fans were pissed off at the new direction, and the people who already hated the band hated this album too. A mostly-likeminded followup album (2004’s Guilt Show) came and then The Get Up Kids called it quits a year after that.
The Get Up Kids’ road to recovery has not been a smooth one. They reunited in 2008, released the Simple Science EP in 2010, and the really-not-bad-but-mostly-ignored-or-panned-anyway There Are Rules full-length in 2011, and The Get Up Kids still mostly had it rough until the emo revival hit and they started doing shows that saw them playing Something to Write Home About in full. The goodwill towards them continued as they broke a long silence once again with 2018’s Kicker EP and then even more so with the release of their 2019 album Problems, which combined the punchiness of STWHA with the maturity of On A Wire and felt like the STWHA sequel that fans had spent 20 years hoping to finally get. That said, On A Wire never deserved to be chastised the way it was, and listening to it today, it really holds up. Opener “Overdue” always kinda sounded like the middle ground between Something to Write Home About and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and was always just about as good as the highlights of both of those albums too. It was also always the album’s clear highlight, but the other songs on On A Wire are no slouches either. The world might not’ve been ready for this album in 2002, but don’t call it a misstep today.
Saves the Day – In Reverie (2003)
Maybe The Get Up Kids weren’t going to get TRL big, but their Vagrant labelmates Saves The Day seemed like they might after they released 2001’s Stay What You Are and its breakthrough single “At Your Funeral.” They got scooped up by Dreamworks, who were presumably trying to repeat the success they had with Bleed American at the time (they also scooped up AFI, The All-American Rejects, and… Sparta??), but instead of getting anything like Bleed American or Stay What You Are, Dreamworks got In Reverie, which had maybe a total of 90 seconds that qualified as pop punk. Chris Conley gave in to his Beatles obsession, mastered a soaring falsetto, and started writing songs with bright, chiming guitars and atypical (for pop punk) chord structures and progressions. It might’ve seemed jarring, but Chris was 18 when he released the first Saves The Day record and 23 for In Reverie. Is it any wonder he was more interested in The Beatles than Lifetime?
Dreamworks of course did not get what they thought they had signed on for, and when the label was absorbed by Interscope a few weeks after In Reverie‘s release, Saves The Day (unlike Jimmy Eat World, AFI, and The All-American Rejects) were dropped. (Luckily, Vagrant welcomed them back.) Saves The Day never really “returned to form” — if anything, they sometimes made even more adventurous music after In Reverie — but they did largely return to punchier, more accessible rock music and In Reverie has remained a distinct outlier in their discography. Stay What You Are and its even more pop punk predecessor Through Being Cool remain the band’s most classic and most loved albums, but In Reverie has amassed a cult following over the years and deservingly so. It’s Saves the Day’s Pinkerton, and like Pinkerton, it requires a little more patience, but the payoff is worth it. It’s a pop punk/emo band going through a Beatles phase without necessarily sounding “Beatlesque.” It doesn’t really sound like any other album, within pop punk/emo or otherwise. And unlike some of the other albums on this list, I think we maybe still haven’t seen the end of In Reverie‘s legacy.
blink-182 – blink-182 (2003)
blink-182 showed flashes of maturity earlier on in their career (“Adam’s Song”), and you could tell from the slower tempos and more serious themes of Take Off Your Pants and Jacket songs like “Story of a Lonely Guy” and “Stay Together for the Kids” that blink were itching to break out of their juvenile shell by 2001. But that album was still called “take off your pants and jacket” and it still had the toilet humor song “Happy Holidays, You Bastard,” so obviously there was still some pressure to stick to the band’s juvenile M.O. And even on the serious songs on that album, these late-twentysomethings were still singing about grade school concerns like prom and parents getting divorced. (It was also kind of responsible of them to use their platform to give solace to the kids who were listening and suffering from broken homes or depression, but it still might not have resonated as much with the people who were actually the age of the members of blink-182.) After TOYPAJ came out, Tom DeLonge was officially ready to get serious, but at first he felt like he needed to work outside of blink-182 to do so. He launched his side project Box Car Racer (with Travis Barker on drums, guest vocals on one song by Mark Hoppus, and production by frequent blink collaborator Jerry Finn), whose sole 2002 album was influenced by post-hardcore bands like Refused and Quicksand and saw Tom exploring lyrical themes like politics and 9/11. On its very first song, he sang “Sometimes I wish I was young.” At least this time he was being upfront about it.
Box Car Racer ended up being a surprising success, and it gave blink-182 the courage they needed to make that kind of album themselves. The result was their 2003 untitled album, which is like Box Car Racer on steroids. The darker, heavier, post-hardcore vibe of BCR remained, but with Mark and Tom’s songwriting styles clashing and Travis even writing a little bit too, they came out with an album that was even more adventurous than BCR. In addition to the heavier stuff, they also worked in spacier, U2-ish sounds (which Tom would further explore in his post-blink-182 band Angels & Airwaves) and showed off their strong love of The Cure. Robert Smith actually guested on the album and co-signed the band’s new sound (“Nobody knows what kind of songs you are going to write in the future and nobody knows the full potential of any band. I really like the music you sent me,” he told them), but the album’s best Cure-ish song actually isn’t the one with Robert Smith. It’s “Always,” a genuinely sweet post-punk love song that holds up as well as “Lovesong” or “Friday I’m In Love.”
The untitled album didn’t succeed just because it ditched pop punk for more respected styles of music; it fused together several styles of music in a way that still sounds original over 15 years later. And with lyrical themes like isolation, death, alcoholism, and paranoia, it wasn’t an album aimed at people half their age, it was an album that felt true to where Mark and Tom were at that point in their lives. And it worked. Some of the albums on this list were or still are divisive, but blink-182’s untitled album made them even bigger than they already were. It also, unfortunately, led to their demise, but it did shape everything they’d do next. Tom went fully into outer space with Angels & Airwaves while Mark and Travis further explored a more mature form of pop punk in their band +44. And when blink-182 finally reunited, they continued in the vein of the untitled album on 2011’s underrated Neighborhoods. (Tom then left and was replaced by Alkaline Trio’s Matt Skiba, and I won’t get too into the Tom-less blink material but they at least tried to keep the darker sound going on their last album.) We can only hope Tom one day rejoins the band, but whether he does or not, they already continue to have far more longevity than the average late ’90s / early ’00s pop punk band, and a big part of that is because of how the untitled album altered their career for good.
The Early November – The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path (2006)
NJ emo-popsters The Early November started out as one of many bands who clearly owed a lot to early Get Up Kids (and they paid direct homage to them by quoting part of “No Love” on “Baby Blue” off on their Drive-Thru Records-released instant classic debut album The Room’s Too Cold), and like The Get Up Kids, The Early November pivoted to dad rock signifiers just about as soon as they tasted a bit of fame. The followup to The Room’s Too Cold was a triple album, with each disc a different (very not pop punk and hardly even emo) style of music and each a different part of the album’s grand, overarching concept. The Mechanic (disc one) is the father, The Mother (disc two) is (obviously) the mother, and The Path (disc three) is a conversation between the son Dean and his therapist (voiced by a spoken-word narrator), and it’s on disc three where the story really starts to unravel. Dean’s parents unexpectedly had him young, turned him over to his grandparents who pretended to be his parents while his real parents pretended to be his aunt and uncle, and Dean ends up living a damaged childhood, eventually learns the truth, runs away at 18, and ends up with an unexpected child of his own at the same age his parents were when they had him. The story is soundtracked on The Mechanic by a modernized and slightly emo-adjacent version of ’70s hard rock, on The Mother by whimsical, frequently acoustic Beatlesque pop, and on The Path mainly by somber folk music but with flashes of The Mother‘s Beatles influence and some harmonica-fueled blues. The Room’s Too Cold had acoustic songs in the acoustic emo vein of The Get Up Kids’ Something To Write Home About‘s acoustic songs or Dashboard Confessional, but The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path‘s acoustic songs wouldn’t register as emo at all if they came from a band who didn’t already have ties to the genre. And it was more than just the acoustic guitars that separated this album’s sound from its predecessor’s; it was also the grand, George Martin-esque string and horn arrangements, the classic pop chord structures and progressions, and the soaring vocal melodies and harmonies that sooner recalled the sunshine pop of the ’60s than the sneering, melodramatic emo-pop of The Room’s Too Cold.
As such a highly ambitious album and drastic about-face, it’s kind of crazy to think it was only the band’s second album, and it’s perhaps not too surprising that Drive-Thru was apparently hesitant to release it at first and that the band went on hiatus shortly after its release. It had moderate success — the video for “Hair” got a good amount of TV-play — but it never really caught on like its precessor; a classic case of being too artsy for the Warped Tour world and fully ignored by the people who do like Beatlesque concept albums. Being a tough-to-digest triple album probably didn’t help, and it’s hard not to wonder if things might’ve gone over differently if the band tested the waters with a single album made up of best parts of The Mechanic and The Mother and saved the theatrical drama of The Path for later. Still, it’s admirable that they threw the hail mary, and even if it’s not always easy to listen to it in one sitting, I think The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path has aged well and contains a lot more hits than misses. (It also has had enough longevity to warrant a 10th anniversary tour in 2017.) As for how it altered the band’s career, when they came back from hiatus, they returned to emo and they continue to remain an emo band today. But similar to Saves The Day’s post-In Reverie career, even if The Early November never sounded like The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path, they also never tried to sound like teenage emo kids again. Last year’s Lilac was a genuinely good atmospheric emo album that felt mature in an honest, “this is where we’re at now” way without resorting to the “we’re abandoning emo and being dad rock now” way. They probably still deal with fans who don’t want anything besides The Room’s Too Cold, but they’ve evolved into so much more than that. The Early November might not sound like The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path anymore, but that album made it so they couldn’t be easily pigeonholed, and that’s something that’s never changed.
New Found Glory – Coming Home (2006)
The same year Enema of the State was busy making pop punk bigger than ever, a newer pop punk band from Florida called A New Found Glory (they later dropped the “A”) put out a modest, scrappy debut album called Nothing Gold Can Stay. Its underground success would quickly lead to them inking a deal with Drive-Thru Records, whose deal with MCA would help turn Nothing Gold Can Stay opener “Hit or Miss” into NFG’s breakthrough song, and it wouldn’t be long before NFG were rivaling bands like blink-182 in the mainstream. Unlike the Descendents-style skate punk that was blowing up on the West Coast, NFG had a tougher East Coast sound that pulled from hardcore bands like Lifetime and Gorilla Biscuits and they blended that sound with bubblegum melodies and Jordan Pundik’s high-pitched nasal voice, making it accessible to tens of thousands of kids who would’ve otherwise never listened to Lifetime or Gorilla Biscuits. (NFG also had some actual hardcore cred, as guitarist Chad Gilbert was the vocalist on Shai Hulud’s debut album.)
After NFG tightened up their sound and released three more albums that showed a clear evolution but were all largely cut from the same pop punk cloth, New Found Glory traded their baggy shorts and skate tees for argyle sweaters and pants that fit, and they traded their snotty pop punk for a warmer, softer, and often ballad-driven form of alternative rock on 2006’s Coming Home. Jordan’s voice doesn’t even qualify as “whiny” for the bulk of the album, and instead of filling an entire disc with pogo-inducing power chords, Coming Home found NFG favoring acoustic guitar, piano, string arrangements, and swaying tempos. Coming Home still sounds unmistakably like New Found Glory even though you’d hardly call it pop punk, and as far as the albums on this list go, this is one of the more original and unique ones. While some of NFG’s peers’ way out of pop punk was “make an album that sounds like The Beatles,” NFG didn’t really recall any other bands in particular on Coming Home. It kinda just sounds like slower, calmer New Found Glory — the melodies are still sugary sweet, the lyrics are still pretty much all about girls, but the record overall sounds like a band who is growing up and moving on.
As far as listening to it today goes, Coming Home kinda holds up better than some of NFG’s more classic albums, even if it isn’t as important or influential, but I don’t know if the band or their current fanbase would agree. It didn’t really alter the path of their career at all; it was more like a slight detour before the band completed their major label contract with a 2008 greatest hits album, returned to the indie label world, and returned to making exactly the kind of pop punk they made in the early 2000s. (In between, they also released the Tip of the Iceberg EP on the real-deal hardcore label Bridge 9, featuring covers of Gorilla Biscuits, Lifetime, and Shelter and three original songs that sound like more polished versions of those kinds of bands. It was a nice way to help turn a ton of new people onto those bands, and I think the original songs are actually some of the best they’ve written.)
The Starting Line – Direction (2007)
As written in the introduction to this article, one of the big reasons that pop punk bands eventually leave the genre behind is because these bands often form at a very young age, and that’s especially true for Starting Line frontman Kenny Vasoli. He joined the band at 14 and was 18 when they released their now-signature song “The Best of Me,” and for a band whose signature song contains the lyric “We got older but we’re still young,” Kenny sure has tried very hard to prove he does not live by that. When The Starting Line first broke up, he formed Person L, a band who aimed to combine Radiohead-like atmosphere, prog riffs, and heavy ’90s post-hardcore, and then he started Vacationer, who have spent the last decade churning out chillwavy psych-pop not far removed from Tame Impala or MGMT. Before all that though, The Starting Line released Direction, Kenny’s first — and very overt — attempt to leave pop punk behind. The album does still have pop punk moments, but nothing nearly as bubblegummy as “The Best of Me,” and it also sewed the seeds for much of the music Kenny would write in the future. The darker hard rock of the title track predicted the first Person L album, while the Pop Punk Goes Beach Boys of Direction‘s big single “Island” is kind of proto-Vacationer. Direction is also home to tender folk-pop (“Something Left To Give”), shimmering power ballads (“Hurry”), soaring falsettos (“Birds”), and other sounds that marked a clear departure from the band’s roots. It isn’t a perfect album, but when it hits, it hits, and I’d say it holds up today as the band’s best work, even if it doesn’t have the one song you’ll hear at Emo Nite.
As you may notice is kind of a trend with these albums, The Starting Line broke up not long after Direction came out. They since reunited and released the three-song Anyways EP, which was produced by the emo revival’s go-to producer (Will Yip) and was a little more straightforward than Direction but still more in line with that album than with TSL’s earlier, more famous material. (The Starting Line have also been aligning themselves with cool revival-era bands lately.) When I saw them at Warped Tour’s 25th anniversary in 2019, Kenny looked like he was having fun playing songs he wrote as a teenager, but you could tell that it was nostalgic for him and that it’s not necessarily where his heart is at the moment. Before they played “Island,” Kenny shouted “Direction is our best record!” to a crowd of people who almost definitely think Say It Like You Mean It is their best record. Judging by where they’re at now, they seem like they could write a record that solidifies their legacy as the forward-thinking band heard on Direction, and establishes them as emo elder statesmen with relevant new music, not a band playing to aging Warped Tour crowds who are waiting around to hear “The Best of Me.” I hope they do it.
Panic at the Disco – Pretty. Odd. (2008)
I don’t think anyone listening to “emo” in the ’90s could’ve predicted anything like Panic! at the Disco’s massive 2005 debut album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out coming to define the genre for hundreds of thousands of people, but that’s exactly what happened. With its pop punk/emo-tinged circus music, melodramatic high school poetry, theatricality, earworm hooks, and song titles like “Lying Is the Most Fun a Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off,” A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out was the album you either loved to hate or hated to love. It made P!ATD super famous but also a super easy target, and I don’t think their haters would’ve changed their minds about them even if they ditched everything that had come to define them and made a full-on Sgt. Pepper’s-style album… which is exactly what they did for their second album Pretty. Odd. They dropped the exclamation point from their name, they wrote “welcome to the sound of Pretty. Odd.” on the album artwork so you knew it was different, and they were very obviously paying homage to the music The Beatles wrote in their most whimsical psych-pop era. I’ve used the word “Beatlesque” in this article a few times already, so Panic weren’t the first pop punk/emo band to pivot to Beatles, but they were definitely the most obvious about it. From the bouncy Paul McCartney-esque pianos to the George Harrison-esque guitar solos to the George Martin-esque string and horn arrangements, you’d think Panic at the Disco time-traveled back to 1967 when every band felt pressured to make their own version of Sgt. Pepper’s. Save for Brendon Urie’s unmistakable voice, these songs could all pass as relics from that era.
As it did in 2008, it still feels kind of crazy that this album exists. Why would Panic at the Disco — one of the biggest new bands in the world — make such a drastic change towards a sound that would obviously not work for them? There was no way the Warped Tour/Hot Topic crowd was gonna get down with Beatles impressions (The Early November could’ve warned them!), and there was no way Panic were gonna leave the reputation of their debut behind and become a critically acclaimed band. These facts had to be obvious to them, so it’s actually kind of admirable that they went ahead and did it. A lot of the credit goes to guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Ryan Ross, who was credited with “creative direction” on this album and Panic’s debut. He seemed a lot more keen on becoming a “cool” band than Brendon Urie; after this album came out, Ryan and Panic bassist Jon Walker left the band to continue exploring ’60s pop influences in their new band The Young Veins, while Brendon and drummer Spencer Smith brought the exclamation point back and took P!ATD back to a more A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out type sound on 2011’s Vices & Virtues. Eventually Spencer would also leave and the band would basically become Brendon’s solo project, and they’d get poppier and poppier and then become one of the biggest bands in the world again once “High Hopes” hit in 2018.
For Brendon Urie’s career, Pretty. Odd. was a detour. For Ryan Ross’, it might be his masterpiece. Whether you love this band or hate them, it’s a fascinating album. At best, it’s a pretty good album of unoriginal but very catchy songs that should’ve been marketed to of Montreal and MGMT fans. At worst, it’s a flimsy Beatles impression with corny emo vocals. But even if it’s the latter, Pretty. Odd. had to pique the interest of some kids who hadn’t heard Sgt. Pepper’s yet, and I’m sure there are people who consider it their gateway to “weirder” music. If so, kudos to Panic for taking the risk and using their platform to expose this new music to a new generation.
Hellogoodbye – Would It Kill You? (2010)
Forrest Kline’s Hellogoodbye project came out swinging with their 2004 self-titled debut EP on Drive-Thru, which combined Warped Tour-style pop punk, bedroom synthpop, and tons of auto-tune, and birthed breakthrough single “Shimmy Shimmy Quarter Turn (Take It Back To Square One).” It was a song so poptimist and cloying that it was obviously going to piss people off, but also kinda undeniably catchy and inventive to the point that you kinda had to respect it. They followed the EP with their 2006 debut album Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs!, and if you were turned off by “Shimmy Shimmy Quarter Turn,” this album was not gonna change your mind. So pop, so cheerful, and drenched in auto-tune. And if the album title alone didn’t make you think “this is probably for kids,” clicking play quickly would. Still, if you got past the bubblegum exterior, you could sense that Forrest was often doing it all with a wink and often hinting at greater ambitions, as on “Baby, It’s Fact,” which sounded like a modern, glossy version of the band Hellogoodbye is named after. Four years and a departure from Drive-Thru later, Forrest ditched auto-tune and peppy synthpunk for a jangly, string-laden, acoustic guitar-heavy, power pop album that kinda sounded like The Kinks via Vampire Weekend. It even had a song called “Getting Old.”
As with some of the other bands on this list, Hellogoodbye suffered from an album that wasn’t going to go over well on Warped Tour (which they played the year after Would It Kill You? came out) and wasn’t going to reach the people who actually listened to The Kinks or Vampire Weekend. It also probably didn’t help that they had to release it on their own label, or that the Warped Tour scene of the ’90s and early/mid ’00s was starting to fade by 2010. Despite being a followup to a very popular album, it might be the most obscure album on this list. But if it managed to find you, you’d have been treated to some pleasant power pop songs that were a far cry from Hellogoodbye’s biggest hits. They never did anything this dad rock again, but it definitely altered the path of their career. Would It Kill You?‘s 2013 followup Everything Is Debatable sort of occupied the middle ground between Hellogoodbye’s synthier beginnings and the jangly Would It Kill You?, and 2018’s S’Only Natural found them dishing out disco-indie that wouldn’t sound out of place next to, like, Rhye. S’Only Natural might actually be the band’s most fashionable and indie-cred-deserving album yet — especially in the indie/pop/R&B crossover era — but it also sounds aimed at the current youth. Would It Kill You? will always be the Hellogoodbye album for dads.
Paramore – After Laughter (2017)
Panic! at the Disco’s Fueled by Ramen labelmates Paramore were also among the biggest bands of mid 2000s pop punk/emo, and they also eventually evolved out of that sound, but it happened a little more gradually and gracefully. 2007’s Riot! perfected the glossy pop punk that Paramore had started on their 2005 debut All We Know Is Falling, and 2009’s Brand New Eyes reflected a maturation in Hayley Williams’ lyricism, though the music was mainly cut from the same cloth. Things started changing on their 2013 self-titled album, which followed the departure of founding guitarist/songwriter Josh Farro and his brother, drummer Zac Farro, and found guitarist/keyboardist Taylor York (who had helped out as a co-writer since the debut and joined the band in 2007) stepping up as Hayley’s main co-writer. It also introduced producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Tegan & Sara, etc) as the band’s new creative partner. The self-titled album found Paramore exploring funkier pop that felt more “adult” than the very youthful pop punk of the band’s earlier years, but songs would still build up to Warped Tour-style choruses and the album had its highlights but it never really committed enough in either direction. Then, secret weapon Zac Farro — who had been off making Tame Impala-esque psych-pop as Halfnoise — rejoined Paramore and helped them complete their departure from pop punk and make their best record yet in the process. After Laughter is a sharp, new wavey pop record with hints of Blondie and ’80s Fleetwood Mac and the best lyrics of Hayley Williams’ career thus far. Hayley was a teenager when writing those first couple records, but After Laughter came a decade after the regrettable “Misery Business,” and it featured Hayley tackling topics like depression and anxiety with wisdom and tact. And the fact that she applied those lyrics to such a happy-sounding record makes it even better; unlike a lot of pop punk, After Laughter requires several listens and is much more than meets the eye.
It’s Paramore’s most recent album, so it’s too soon to really say how it affected their career, but it already seems like the closest comparison on this list would be the blink-182 album. As untitled did for blink-182, After Laughter made Paramore even bigger. They managed to find a sound that could keep all their old fans around while gaining tons of new ones. No word on if and when a new Paramore album is coming, but Hayley recently launched her solo career (and one of her singles made In Defense of the Genre’s best songs of January), and her solo material finds her continuing to depart from her Warped Tour roots and explore a wider scope of musical influences and a greater lyrical depth. She and Paramore both seem like they’ve successfully entered a new phase of their career, which not many of their mid 2000s pop punk peers can say in the 2020s.
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