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Good Charlotte

+ {The Madden Brothers}

Plenty room on board the punk-pop gravy train to hitsville U.S.A.? Yes, but only if your band sounds a dead-ringer for GREEN DAY, BLINK-182 and a hundred other spiky-top spawns. There was a time in the mid-00s when East Coast “wundernerds” GOOD CHARLOTTE – in essence America’s answer to McFly and Busted – could do no wrong, due to a string of forgettable Top 10 albums, and chart-fodder earworms of excess, `Lifestyles Of The Rich & Famous’, `Girls & Boys’, `The Anthem’, `The Young & The Hopeless’, `Predictable’, `I Just Wanna Live’ etc. Then their bubble burst – well sort of.
Formed 1996, in Waldorf, Maryland, teenager twins Joel (on lead vocals) and Benji Madden (guitar, vocals), together with school-friends Paul Thomas (bass), Billy Martin (guitar) and Aaron Escolopio (drums), took their hard-studied moniker from a much-thumbed children’s book, Good Charlotte: Girls Of The Good Day Orphanage (by Carol Beach York, incidentally). Famously inspired to pick up mics and instruments after a show on the BEASTIE BOYS’ “Ill Communication” tour, the lads unfortunately failed to absorb much of the hip hop act’s style, wit, charisma and originality, never mind their awkward, endearing funkiness or encyclopaedic knowledge of black music. Instead, they took the usual route of local gigging, then demo-straight-to-major-label approach amid the continuing corporate rush to sign anything with a faint whiff of adolescent angst or cropped, multi-gelled hair. The fact that the Madden siblings were moonlighting as MTV presenters didn’t exactly do the tattooed ‘Charlottes much harm either.
Settling for a deal with Daylight Records (a subsidiary of Epic/Sony), the 5-piece released their eponymous debut album, GOOD CHARLOTTE {*5}, in September 2000. Sounding as assembly-line-manufactured as they looked, which was fine for adolescent college-kid punks, but not so fine if one’d heard those chugging guitar chords and whining lyrics just once too often, there was merit to snotty songs about post-high school trials and tribulations (e.g. `Little Things’, `Motivation Proclamation’ and `East Coast Anthem’), but not much from the academic department.
Hoping to appeal to the dysfunctional and dispossessed, the chanthemic `Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous’ major hit previewed the equally gnawing THE YOUNG AND THE HOPELESS (2002) {*6}, a Top 10 album that was as doleful as its title suggested. With more heavy-handed hormonal musings and join-the-dots “punk” than was really necessary – `Girls & Boys’, `The Anthem’ and the title track all UK hits – punk-rock had certainly been diluted since the days of The CLASH, SEX PISTOLS, DEAD KENNEDYS et al, who, by their very definition, sang about injustice, government corruption and riots on the street, not gossip, girls and er… ghosts.
After finding a permanent drummer, Chris Wilson, for Aaron (whose berth was filled on the previous set by journeyman Josh Freese), the infectious GOOD CHARLOTTE swaggered back into the fray with the appropriately-titled `Predictable’ Brit hit. One of maybe three songs that lifted one up from writing out SUICIDAL TENDENCIES lyrics on the coffee-table and thinking hard not to read into any subliminal messages (obvious as it seemed), `I Just Wanna Live’ and the title track from THE CHRONICLES OF LIFE AND DEATH (2004) {*6}, just about sent one over the top, but not quite. If one was looking for exceptions to the rule, then cover versions of The STRANGELOVES’ `I Want Candy’, OMD’s `If You Leave’, SILVERCHAIR’s `Cemetery’ and ELLIOTT SMITH’s `Between The Bars’, were available as B-sides.
As an ill Wilson (later to The Summer Obsession) moved aside for an incumbent English-born Dean Butterworth, who’d drummed for MORRISSEY, it was again time to look for some new found glory. Joel had been the study of the paparazzi as beau of then-girlfriend Hilary Duff, while Benji was chalking up column inches as Sophie Monk’s fiance (they split in ’08), so it was understandably hard work tearing themselves away to record album number four, GOOD MORNING REVIVAL (2007) {*4}. Possibly the worst title to be adopted by any band anywhere anytime, although it matched the empty songs within its casing (or indeed carcass), only UK hits `The River’ (featuring AVENGED SEVENFOLD’s M. Shadows and Synyster Gates), `Keep Your Hands Off My Girl’ and `Dance Floor Anthem (I Don’t Wanna Be In Love)’, were something to write home to mummy and daddy about. As hypocritical and shallow when writing about Hollywood’s “plastic people”, it was clear as the L.A. fog that the cliched Madden’s were still enthralled by the “lifestyles of the Joel’s and Benji’s”. While rivals GREEN DAY and BLINK-182 could rock the boat a bit with poignant lyrics and haunting hook-lines, GC were out of their depth and drowning in a swimming pool of KILLERS and COLDPLAY riffs.
It was indeed time for a change to their post-prom-punk policy, though full-bloodied, heart-pumping abandonment was not fulfilled on CARDIOLOGY (2010) {*5} – their first and only GC set for Capitol Records. A disaster in terms of sales – the album stalled just outside the Top 30 (No.63 tops in Britain!) – the twee-some GOOD CHARLOTTE balked for the first time since their debut a decade ago. Batteries charged up with hooks and lyrics thought of as commendable if not brainstorming, the back-to-back singles `It’s Like Her Birthday’ and `Last Night’, pointed the way to a promising future, but only if substance over quantity could prevail.
Presumptuous to assume that a plethora of rock fans would know them by name, The MADDEN BROTHERS – er… siblings Joel and Benji – nonetheless tried in vain to crack the pop market with the sugar-coated and summery GREETINGS FROM CALIFORNIA (2014) {*6}. Produced by Eric Valentine and switching their dials back to the hazy days of their childhood, there was a sense they loved both DURAN DURAN and SMASH MOUTH. The likely lads had a hit on their hands, but only overseas in Canada and Australia. Suited better to their cars and girls motifs (with added surf and yacht-rock to boot), the sunshine settled on tracks such as `We Are Done’, `Brother’, `Dear Jane’ and `California Rain’.
With Benji subsequently settled as hubby of stunning actress Cameron Diaz (the lucky lad wed her on January 5, 2015), the longer-than-usual wait for an album was over when GOOD CHARLOTTE self-financed their own “comeback” sixth set, YOUTH AUTHORITY (2016) {*6}. Sales healthier, the Madden’s wealthier, this record was a shock to the system for pundits who’d written them off since day one. Afresh from their dance-rock field trip into brotherly love, the 5-piece emo-ists GC seemed to have stumbled upon a bit of form and, in the process, a place back in the Top 30 (UK Top 20!). A little rougher around the edges at times, the chanthemic `Life Changes’, `Makeshift Love’, `Keep Swingin’’ (featuring Kellin Quinn of SLEEPING WITH SIRENS) and the fist-pumping `Reason To Stay’ (showboating Simon Neil of Scots BIFFY CLYRO) were soaring and hot-to-trot. What’s that saying? – never too late! Well… mmm…
Had the time come for pop-punks GOOD CHARLOTTE to look over their shoulders for further critical backlash? You betcha! Despite signed to BMG Records and promotional leg-ups from the industry, GENERATION Rx (2018) {*5}, hit the skids sales-wise, reaching only a miserable #164; the UK hp#31 kept the faith. Age was not on the Madden’s side, and about to turn 40 in the next year, maybe the youth of today found their elixir of life ruse a little daunting on staid anthems like `Self Help’, `Shadowboxer’ , `Prayers’ et al; or maybe their fickle fans felt short-changed at the set’s total running time of around 31 minutes; “grateful for small mercies” comes to mind.
© MC Strong/MCS 2004-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2016-Sep2018

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