Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell... what next from Canada, you ask? Well...
It’s fair to say that Sum 41 are keen on audience participation. Tonight, at least, the fun never stops. Fans are invited up to dance by the drumkit while the band plays. A microphone is passed around so that we can request songs by our favourite heavy metal bands. At one point, hyperactive singer-guitarist Bizzy D pushes his luck by suggesting that two girls get off with each other onstage. Inevitably, his wish is granted within seconds.
Bizzy’s group are currently inspiring fanatical devotion among the UK’s teenage rock fans, and it’s not difficult to see why. A quartet of 20-year-olds from the suburbs of Toronto, Sum 41 specialise in frenetic punk-pop of the
variety, and they’ve got tunes to rival either of those bands. The influence of Green Day
is particularly obvious: Bizzy D even favours the classic Billie Joe pose, leaning into the mic as he slashes his way through the many highlights of the gold-selling ‘All Killer No Filler’ LP.
Sum 41‘s music is an impossibly fast and frantic rush of spiky riffs and
high harmonies. The lyrics, meanwhile, deal with universal adolescent
traumas, such as being hassled by your parents (‘Nothing On My Back’) and struggling to get out of bed in the morning (‘Motivation’). As angst goes, it’s more Kevin The Teenager than Sylvia Plath, and all the better for it.
But since most of the songs clock in at the two-and-a-half minute mark,
there aren’t quite enough of them on ‘All Killer No Filler’ to fill a full headline slot. So, once they’ve exhausted the highlights of their US debut ‘Half Hour Of Power’, Sum 41 are forced to resort to a whole lot of pissing about in order to keep us amused. Thus we get several jokey homages to Judas Priest and Iron Maiden, with every old-metal cliche faithfully observed – including the dreaded drum solo. When they tire of that, they do a couple of dodgy rap tunes. They even let their mad drummer sing one.
All of which might sound tedious on paper, but what redeems Sum 41, apart from being genuinely funny blokes, is that they can sense when a crowd’s patience is about to run out. So while they may lark about far more than is necessary during ‘Makes No Difference’, they’re clever enough to follow it with a manic thrash through their best tune, ‘Summer’ – and all is immediately forgiven. What’s more, the bold claim of their album title is a convincing one: Sum 41 just don’t do filler – ‘Handle This’, ‘All She’s Got’, ‘In Too Deep’ and ‘Rhythms’ all sound like hit singles.
Also working in Sum 41 favour is that unlike, say, Alien Ant Farm, they are happy to revel in their new-found pop stardom and make no attempt to convince us of their credibility. They seem perfectly content to play angry pop songs for angry kids. At no point do any stools or acoustic guitars appear on stage. At no point are any hip contemporaries name-checked (indeed, Bizzy D seems disgusted when a Korn
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T-shirt is thrown onstage). And at no point are there any stories about being poor and depressed before they made it big. Instead, we get jokes about beer enemas and bad hair days.
Ultimately, the new single ‘Fat Lip’ – featured, tellingly, on the
soundtrack to ‘American Pie 2’ – confirms that Sum 41 are the new masters of dumb, disposable punk rock. They are loud, they’re bursting with energy, and they sincerely crave approval. On tonight’s evidence, it’d be churlish to deny them.