New Found Glory

Sticks and Stones (MCA)

Anyone who pays the slightest attention to popular music knows that punk rock hasn't been the typical nihilist's soundtrack of choice for many years, so don't bother stopping the presses. But there remains plenty of irony in the degree to which the genre has been mainstreamed. Whereas punk acts were once shunned by the Tiger Beats of the world for allegedly presenting a negative image to America's youth, New Found Glory, among today's hottest pop-punk/neo-emo combos, was recently featured in a contest on TeenPeople.com: "Win a music lesson from your favorite Glory guy!"

This development isn't all bad, especially considering the alternatives: While Avril Lavigne's tunes are tougher than, say, Vanessa Carlton's, that doesn't mean she's ready for the Warped Tour. But underneath its rocky exterior, this disc is awfully smooth. The offering has been specifically designed -- perhaps even machine-tooled -- to hint at disaffection without actually embracing it. As rebellion goes, it's as safe as baby food.

Not that vocalist Jordan Pundik sings exclusively about happy feelings and sunshiny days. "Understatement," the lead track, kicks off with the grabby couplet "I'm sick of smiling/And so is my jaw." But as the track continues, it's clear that romantic confusion hasn't exactly turned him into a wild man: His most dangerous line is "Don't worry, your pictures are already burned," which is hardly an admission of pyromania. Pundik's even less bold on the subsequent "My Friends Over You," undercutting his alleged anger at a certain gal-pal by acknowledging, "It's my fault that it fell apart." Declarations of alienation that crop up elsewhere are almost always paired with swoony affirmations of love that suggest Dashboard Confessional Lite: "It's Been a Summer" goes from "I'm cracked from my head down to my spine" to "I'd rather die than spend this night here without you," while "Belated" juxtaposes "I've never felt so bad in my entire life" with "I'm not going to let you down." As for "The Story So Far," it concludes with language ("The sky will never look the same again/'Til you showed me how it could be") that wouldn't sound out of place on a Marc Anthony CD: heavy sigh!

The music that accompanies such sentiments is catchy, melodic, primarily up-tempo and entirely edge-free, as befits ditties made for the radio -- and taken one at a time, the cuts sound thoroughly pleasant, if rather nondescript. But anarchic, it ain't. Whereas Blink 182, whose Mark Hoppus contributes a bass line on "Something I Call Personality," at least bothers to toss out a few profanities now and again, New Found Glory keeps things cleaner than Martha Stewart's laundry room. Sticks and Stones won't break your bones, and neither will it hurt you. That's punk rock, circa 2002.

 
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