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Sum 41

Originally Canada’s answer to pop-punk proponents GREEN DAY, BLINK-182, GOOD CHARLOTTE and the like, SUM 41 added a touch of toilet-pan humour to the malevolent metal mix. Machine-gun rhythms, deeply dark lyrics and spliced, schizoid choruses, the summation of all their parts went further than just 41 – maybe as far as the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Or maybe not. Jesting aside, the quartet simply adopted their moniker when attended an inspirational gig – the Supernova show on September 28, 1996 – that happened to be on the 41st day of summer, the actual day they switched from being no-hoper NOFX covers act, Kaspir, to become SUM 41.
Formed in Ajax, Ontario, rhythm guitarist Deryck Whibley, drummer/percussionist/singer Steve Jocz, bassist Richard Roy and lead vocalist/guitarist Jon Marshall kicked off their formative campaign. Rehearsals didn’t get off to a flyer, and during the fall of ‘97, manager Greig Nori intervened by suggesting that Whibley would be best suited to become the spirited band’s frontman. They never looked back. This didn’t go down too well with a despondent Marshall, who almost immediately bailed. Lead guitarist/backing vocalist Dave “Brownsound” Baksh was drafted in forthwith, whilst a little later, after a near-fatal car crash, an injured Roy chose to opt out; his berth filled by Jason “Cone” McCaslin.
On the strength of a demo tape dispatched to all and sundry, SUM 41 inked a deal at Island Records in December ’99. Incidentally, the now rare tape surfaced from their infamous homemade EPK (Electronic Press Kit). SUM 41 then sharpened their colourful pop-punk aplomb on the road while touring with bands such as The OFFSPRING, BLINK-182 and The MIGHTY MIGHTY BOSSTONES. Meanwhile, a debut mini-set, HALF HOUR OF POWER (2000) {*6}, saw its way to the North American public that summer; although it made little impact initially.
The following May – with producer Jerry Finn in tow – skate punk/“dirge-metal” act SUM 41 delivered a second batch entitled ALL KILLER NO FILLER (2001) {*8}. A Top 20 entry in both the US and, a little later, the UK charts, the disc featured two major British hit singles, `Fat Lip’ and `In Too Deep’; regarded by some as their signature tunes. `Motivation’ and the German/Japan-only chart fodder, `Handle This’, were less effective chart-wise, but still class-A punk-pop nonetheless.
Not content with having one of the most inane names in rock music, the Canadian troupe followed on with one of the dumbest album titles of the year in DOES THIS LOOK INFECTED? (2002) {*7}. And on the back of an exclusive UK hit (`It’s What We’re All About’) from the Spider-Man movie, the all-encompassing and heavier cross-Atlantic Top 40 set managed to glean other high-end chart singles, `Still Waiting’ and `The Hell Song’.
The following year saw the “Sums” – one of several punk acts – back IGGY POP on his 2003 album Skull Ring (promoting `Little Know It All’ on the David Letterman Show), whilst in May 2004, the group travelled to the Congo to film some documentary footage for the War Child charity organisation. However, just days after arriving at the troubled Democratic Republic, hostilities broke out again. In the event, the lads were quickly saved by UN aid worker, and fellow Canadian, Chuck Pelletier.
To mark this near-death experience, SUM 41 showed their respect to the man by naming their next set, CHUCK (2004) {*7}. This sobering record continued the band’s surge to the top of the Canadian charts; Top 10 south of the border, and Top 40 over the seas in Britain. Taking their cue from ANTHRAX, or even LINKIN PARK, a heavier hook-laden hue was the “dis”-order of the day among best bits, `No Reason’, `We’re All To Blame’ and `There’s No Solution’.
The customary live set, GO CHUCK YOURSELF! {*5} – recorded exclusively at the John Labatt Centre for homeland Aquarius Records in April 2005 – appeared almost a year later, just as the enterprising Deryck was planning his wedding to pop starlet AVRIL LAVIGNE.
That May, due to creative differences, as they say, Baksh left to form his own punk-pop outfit, Brown Brigade; he later founded The Organ Thieves.
Whittled down to a trio (plus auxiliaries), 2007’s UNDERCLASS HERO {*5} was met with an unfavourable response from reviewers. Accusations that they were just a second-class BLINK-182 were again pointed at their doors. Despite this minor set-back of sorts, fans from all over the globe still purchased the set in vast quantities. And looking back with an incline of impartiality, SUM 41 was hopelessly caught between a rock and a hard-rock place. Fists-in-the-air anthems such as the self-loathing `Walking Disaster’, `Speak Of The Devil’ or `March Of The Dogs’ and the title track, were exactly what the kids of the day requested – no nonsense mindless exuberance countered by the odd calm-before-the-proverbial-storm dirge.
It was clear that the triumvirate tack of the act was exasperating work, so the addition of Tom “Brown Tom” Thacker (ex-Gob) on lead guitar, keyboards and vocals, presented a back-to-the-drawing-board option for 2011’s SCREAMING BLOODY MURDER {*6}. Deryck’s divorce from LAVIGNE was now the catalyst for the man to exorcise his “in too deep” demons. All ‘n’ all, drama and introspective tension were served up in equal measures; though too many times tsunami tunes just petered out into soft-ish ballad territory; only `Skumf*k’, `Reason To Believe’ and the Grammy-nominated `Blood In My Eyes’ rose above the parapet of their previous punk panache.
A subsequent sabbatical ensued when Deryck’s long-time buddy Jocz decided he’d had enough, as of 2013. A few years down the line, Frank Zummo (ex-Street Drum Corps) finally filled Jocz’s long-vacant drum-stool, whilst Baksh resumed his rightful place in the 5-piece next to Whibley, Thacker, McCaslin and Zummo. Whibley’s heavy-drinking escapades had also taken its toll throughout, although that seemed unimportant for now as SUM 41 announced a new album, and one that would be overseen by their new bosses at Hopeless Records.
2016’s transatlantic Top 30 “comeback” set, 13 VOICES {*7} was just what the doctor ordered – dollops of chunky riffs, shout-y vocals and blasting rhythms to die for… or in Deryck’s kidney-and-liver-failure case… a prophesy in-waiting. SUM 41’s strategic turn around was surely in the morbid maturity and/or quality of the cues such as `Fake My Own Death’, `Goddamn I’m Dead Again’, `There Will Be Blood’ and `God Save Us All (Death To POP)’.
Hopping on to the political bandwagon that rallied against the worrying climes set by their noisy neighbour downstairs, so to speak; whose tsunami tweets were almost deafening, SUM 41’s next step forward was to shout even louder through their ORDER IN DECLINE (2019) {*8} album. For conspiracists everywhere, there was no coincidence that, like so many other anti-Pres protest sets, the record failed to emulate prospective sales figures, thus its lowly US hp# of 60; whilst across in Britain SUM 41 still maintained their Top 30 decorum. For the first time in yonks the band had removed the BLINK-182 stigma that’d been an albatross around their star-studded necks for so long. In its place was an agro-laden hybrid of heavy metal and pure punk rock; a sound no doubt endearing to their readership at Kerrang! HQ. For two long decades, SUM 41 had kowtowed to the disaffected youths. However, with the sonic sounds of `Out For Blood’, `Heads Will Roll’, `A Death In The Family’ and the sublime, LINKIN PARK-esque `45 (A Matter Of Time)’, one could almost see them win a war of words with the Devil himself, who’d indeed stolen all the best tunes for himself.
© MC Strong 2004-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jul2019

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