April 17, 2018 Pennywise – Never Gonna Die (Album Review)
Non-Punk Rockers may know Pennywise as the vile clown at the center of Stephen King’s It, but those in-the-know associate Pennywise with the SoCal Punk outfit that have been throwing it down for some thirty years now. Now this killer quartet are set to make their triumphant return with Never Gonna Die on Friday, April 20, 2018, thanks to Epitaph Records.
Formed in the South Bay of Los Angeles – a neighborhood with a rich Punk Rock history – Pennywise came together in 1988, would sign to Epitaph Records by 1990, and go on to release their debut album, Pennywise, in 1991. What would follow would be an additional ten albums over the next twenty-three years, ranging from 1993’s Unknown Road to 2014’s Yesterdays. As one of the most successful independent Punk acts of all-time, the boys have sold over three-million-records worldwide. Of course, success leaves no band immune to tragedy and line-up shake-ups, of which Pennywise have had both – including the untimely 1996 death of Bassist Jason Thirsk and the 2009 departure of Vocalist Jim Lindberg.
Warped Tour veterans who have shared stages with everyone – from Bad Religion to The Offspring – Pennywise are a band known for their political and social commentary. With over a decade passed since the group has recorded new material with this (almost) classic line-up, Pennywise – Vocalist Jim Lindberg, Guitarist Fletcher Dragge, Bassist Randy Bradbury, and Drummer Byron McMackin – return with their twelfth studio offering, the aptly-titled Never Gonna Die. Produced by longtime collaborator Cameron Webb (NOFX, Alkaline Trio), the fourteen-song collection sees Pennywise spouting off their signature blend of sociopolitical commentary minced with a deliciously motivational hope.
Never Gonna Die kicks off to the frenetic pace of album namesake, “Never Gonna Die,” establishing a vicious truth of life: we make the same mistakes and play at war, then we get old and die. The never-ending cycle continues and “the truth is we’re worshipping a lie.” This is a great opener, and a solid introduction to the sociopolitical commentary to follow. In fact, the quartet waste no time in addressing their agenda, baking talk of the Middle Class, guns, and the Fourth of July into the catchy ambush of “American Lies,” a scrumptious sonic pie full of the untruths we embrace daily here in the Land of the Free.
An anthem for those in need of a pick-me-up, “Keep Moving On” urges listeners to “stay strong and carry on” in a completely infectious ode to trying to survive this life. Similarly, the catchy admonition to seize the day, “Live While You Can,” is a reminder that we all have a timebomb ticking in our heads. Meanwhile, “We Set Fire” is a healthy injection of frustrated motivation, an ambitious push to light a fire under the ass of listeners, leading the band into the full-throttle bop of “She Said,” a regretful, personal confession of wanting to turn back time and make it all okay.
They return to their sociopolitical commentary with the somber mood of “Can’t Be Ignored,” exploring the inevitable (“the animals know what is in-store”) downfall of man due to greed. Spicing things up, topically speaking, the boys turn toward Rock-n-Roll for “Goodbye Bad Times,” a celebratory adios to the drugs, drinking, and stupid mistakes that lead to horrible outcomes.
On “A Little Hope,” Pennywise provide the perfect lament for 2018: an admission that there is so much wrong with the world today, but it is still useful to have an ounce of optimism, along with some love and compassion. No, that is not too much! They bounce back to motivational speaking on “Won’t Give Up The Fight,” where infectious gang-vocals and an inspiring rallying cry of a chorus are sure to lead to massive crowd sing-alongs at live shows.
They return to the political arena for “Can’t Save You Now,” where everyone’s least favorite nectarine in Washington is the basis for the sound-clips that anchor the track, a promise that someone in power, ahem, is digging their own grave. “How long before they’re gonna find you out?” Indeed! Next, the ironically hope-filled “All The Ways U Can Die” urges fans at the end of their rope to consider before making any drastic decisions, to avoid the graveyard’s call and not abandon all hope.
There is admittedly a somewhat exasperated tone to “Listen,” where Lindberg and co. urge fans to take back their control, use the tools they have inside of them, and to actually learn something for once. This call to arms leads the band to their grand finale, “Something New,” an acknowledgement that history repeats itself but an inquiry into when we might finally hope to stop getting screwed by the system. How long will it take us to break the cycle?
Truly one of the most enduring institutions in modern Punk, Pennywise are time-tested and proven to be masters at their craft. On Never Gonna Die, there are moments that lean toward a poppier Punk flavor, some good ‘ole Rock-n-Roll, and a whole lot of something called hope. While the guys promise that the fight is worth continuing – politically, socially, and personally – there is a candid admission that the world around us is not exactly sunshine and bunny-rabbits. Despite this, Pennywise offer up a myriad of reasons to put one foot forward and trudge onward, not the least of which is being able to rock out to this new collection. Motivated, inspired and ready to crowd-surf, CrypticRock give Pennywise’s Never Gonna Die 4.5 of 5 stars.
Apr 28 Denver, CA – Sabroso Craft Beer, Taco & Music Festival (Fiddler’s Green Amphitheatre)
Apr 29 Albuquerque, NM – Sabroso Craft Beer, Taco & Music Festival (Isleta Amphitheatre)
May 05 Tucson, AZ – Sabroso Craft Beer, Taco & Music Festival (Rillito Park Race Track)
May 12 Auburn, WA – Sabroso Craft Beer, Taco & Music Festival (White River Amphitheatre)
May 13 Portland, OR – Sabroso Craft Beer, Taco & Music Festival (Portland Meadows)
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