When it came time for Sum 41 to start work on their fourth Island album, singer/songwriter/ guitarist Deryck Whibley wasn't even sure there was a band after the exit of original member, guitarist Dave Brownsound, and the split with their old management company.
"We were kind of left with nobody," says Whibley, who ended up producing the album himself. "And all the odds were stacked against us. People were saying we couldn't recover from all these changes. There was so much doubt."
The result, Underclass Hero, marks a step in a bold new direction for the group, whose three full length albums, 2001's All Killer No Filler, 2002's Does This Look Infected and 2004's Chuck, have sold over 7 million units worldwide.
"We haven't been this together since our first album," boasts Deryck. "I would only have done this record if everyone was into it. There was no point otherwise. There was a lot of negative energy out there."
For the new album, Whibley was forced to look inward and make the songs his most personal yet, dealing with his absent dad ("Dear Father ") and "Walking Disaster"), Dave quitting the band ("So Long Goodbye"), and his inner demons ("Speak of the Devil" and Count Your Last Blessings").
Continuing the direction of more political songs like Does This Look Infected's "Still Waiting" and Chuck's "We're All to Blame" are harsh condemnations of the current administration such as "Confusion and Frustration in Modern Times," "March of the Dogs" and "The Jester," the latter two particularly critical of Bush.
"I had to decide what I wanted to say with my music," explains Whibley. "I asked myself all these questions and then just pulled up my own answers and started writing songs based on those themes. I wanted to make an album that meant something important from beginning to end. I wanted it to have relevance and significance. It's not a concept album It's not about fictional characters in a made-up story but there is a constant idea that runs through the record. It's a deeply personal statement that reflects the confusion and frustration in modern society."
Stylistically, Sum 41 continue their unique meld of raucous punk-rock and thunderous heavy metal. The first single, "Underclass Hero," is a rallying call to arms, with all the speeded-up punk energy flavored by the rap beats of previous hits like "Fat Lip." There are different instrumental touches like the jangly pop intro to "Dear Father (Complete Unkown)," the icy piano line which opens and closes "Count Your Last Blessings," the Beatlesque "Ma Poubelle" the melodic acoustic guitar in "Best of Me" and "So Long Goodbye," masking sometimes bitter feelings of betrayal.
"You can't help but grow up a little," says Whibley about the band's musical and lyrical maturity. "We now see the artistic side of music. We wanted to make this the most artistic punk-rock record we could. We approach music differently now. Things now have a purpose. We care more about the craft of it now."
That growth can be traced back to the group's trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2004, where they were trapped under fire from a local skirmish before being led to safety by a United Nations worker named Chuck Pelletier, after whom they named their third album. The politicization of the band continues on the new album.
"We're still f***ing idiots who do stupid shit all the time," says Whibley. "I still get in trouble. I can't help myself. We've gone through so much over the past 10 years."
That rebellious spirit comes through loud and louder in the bulldozing rush of "Pull The Curtain," the Ramones-meets-Sabbath speed metal of "King of Contradiction," the buzzsaw rant of "March of the Dogs" or the anthem like cry in the wilderness of "Confusion and Frustration in Modern Times," where Whibley pointedly asks, "So what went wrong, where's the voice of reason/It's long gone we lost it long ago."
Along among their contemporaries, Sum-41 continues to straddle the genres, having played with musicians from Iggy Pop to Ludacris.
"The thing I'm proudest of as a writer is being able to meld different styles of music together and make them work in a way that seems very natural," says Whibley. "I wanted to push the boundaries of what our band can do and what punk-rock can mean. I've always listened to melodic, acoustic music lately and I've always written stuff like that, but never finished it enough to put on an album."
With Underclass Her,o Sum 41 wipes the slate clean and starts a new chapter.
"I broke the mirror to the past," sings Whibley on "Confusion and Frustration in Modern Times." "To find what I was looking for/The bleeding heart of broken glass/Is all I found and nothing more regrets."
This is Sum 41, better than ever... and this time no regrets.