Simple Plan

Taking One for the Team

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At the turn of the millennium, when Warped Tour pop-punk was mainstream, Montreal's Simple Plan were the Canadian answer to blink-182 and Good Charlotte. More than a decade after they hit the scene -- and four albums later -- they return with their satisfying fifth LP, Taking One for the Team (Atlantic). There's no pretense here: this album is pure, no-frills, feel-good fun, a start-to-finish crowd-pleaser for fans of that classic pop-punk sound. "Opinion Overload" fires the opening salvo with chugging riffs, shout-outs, and popping drums. They might be defying an ex, a hater, or an authority figure, but with lines like "I'm doing things exactly like I want to...And I don't give a damn if you don't approve," they may as well be flipping off critics and detractors dismissive of a pop-punk album released in 2016. This spirit is channeled throughout, like on the pure nostalgia explosions of "P.S. I Hate You," "Boom!," and "Nostalgic." Elsewhere, the downright optimism of "I Don't Wanna Be Sad" and "Kiss Me Like Nobody's Watching" are cheerful enough to plaster a permanent smile on the listener's face. A pair of guest spots transport the crew back to 2003: fellow scene vet/survivor Jordan Pundik of New Found Glory emotes his way through the throwback "Farewell," while early-aughts rap-pop superstar Nelly lends a party-starting verse to the funky Maroon 5-esque "I Don't Wanna Go to Bed." Other artists drop in to contemporize the affair, with the brothers from R. City channeling radio-friendly beach vibes on "Singing in the Rain," which sounds like another Canadian band, Magic! The quieter moments when the pop-punk melts away to Dashboard emo are refreshing and sweet: "Perfectly Perfect" -- co-written with Plain White T's singer Tom Higgenson -- is lighters-up (or smartphone-screens-in-the-air) ready, while the plaintive "Problem Child" -- co-written with Semi Precious Weapons' Justin Tranter (Fall Out Boy, Kelly Clarkson, Justin Bieber) -- aches and yearns. The party ends with "I Dream About You," a haunting duet with Juliet Simms (The Voice), which swells with beautiful strings and atmospheric synths, like the moodiest alt-emo from Juliana Theory or Acceptance. While most of the album is a direct resurrection of a particular sonic aesthetic, "I Dream About You" pulls Simple Plan into new and exciting territory. As the album closes, Canadian sportscaster Bob Cole announces the play-by-play of a faux hockey game, exclaiming "Oh my goodness, can you believe it? Just like that, Simple Plan have won the game!" When music is presented this directly, and after so many years holding firm to a particular style, it's hard to root against them. They're aware of their legacy and position as now-veterans in a scene that has already experienced another revival with young bands like Neck Deep and All Time Low. Simple Plan -- whose members were in their late thirties at the time of recording -- are the comeback underdog team, winning whether critics like it or not.

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