Billy Talent takes its curious handle from a character name in the 1996 mock rockumentary Hard Core Logo, which traced the continuing adventures of an aging Vancouver punk band. The reference is probably more resonant in the Talent's home base of Toronto; everywhere else, it's a little awkward. Fortunately, the quartet's eponymous Atlantic release struggles mightily to make music matter more than moniker or stylized genre revivalism. Over a muscular, relentless, and viciously catchy 40 minutes, the band checks the wiry, melodic punk of the Buzzcocks while working Fugazi's dueling vocalist dynamic and searingly precise guitar breaks into its own three-minute anthems. The Buzzcocks' influence is immediate and easy; indeed, Billy Talent conveniently opened a clutch of dates on the reunited veterans' 2003 tour. Likewise, Talent benefits from production that tweaks its hooks for maximum sonic pugilism. But while Benjamin Kowalewicz's yowl and screech do bear some resemblance to countryman and somewhat melodramatic Our Lady Peace mouth Raine Maida, his sloganeering lyrics are laced with cynicism, and right-hand man guitarist Ian D'Sa favors tense, angular guitar tones over the enormous compression of the mall-punk boy bands that proliferated at the turn of the century. "Try Honesty" and "This Is How It Goes" certainly have the shout-along choruses. But the latter's "Hold my breath until my heart explodes" is darker than any of Good Charlotte's toothless challenges to authority. There are no nods to hip-hop or power balladry here; "Living in the Shadows" and "Line & Sinker" are roiling, throttling post-hardcore screeds field-stripped to basics, but rebuilt with melody. "The Ex" might be the most straightforward two-and-a-half minutes of punk revivalism on Billy Talent. But even here, the band tears at conventional spurned boyfriend lyrics with vindictive gang vocal interplay, and rushes headlong into the explosive chorus with a nervous energy that's hard to fake. Certainly, Atlantic would like to see Billy Talent hit a chord with the kids -- the record's melodic accessibility bears that out -- but the group wisely favors agitation and tension over cherry-picking from current musical fashion.
AllMusic Review by Johnny Loftus