• Die toten Hosen - Zurück zum Glück (2004)

    Die toten Hosen are Germany's most popular and commercially successful punk rock band. The quintet from Dusseldorf was formed back in 1982 and achieved critical acclaim with its inspired fifth studio album Ein kleines bisschen Horrorschau that went all the way to the third position in the German album charts. The band has never slowed down since then and its last six studio albums have all peaked in the German album charts. The quintet combines a few light-hearted party anthems with socially, politically and culturally inspired songs on the pulse of time. This is why the band's music has been playing at parties throughout different generations for about three decades now but is also being appreciated by more intellectual, philosphical and even religious audiences. It isn't unusual to see entire families attend the band's popular concerts from the rebellious teenager to the wise grand-father.

    Zurück zum Glück is the first album I have owned of this band. My father unexpectedly brought it home for me when I was fifteen years old. Even though I started to appreciate other types of music back then, I have listened to this album by my musical childhood heroes on numerous occasions and am still occasionally listening to this record nowadays as it has aged very well. Zurück zum Glück is actually a play on words. It could mean ''back to happiness'' but also ''fortunately back''. The former is a reference to overcoming contemporary challenges to prepare for a brighter future as expressed in the actual title song. The latter is a tongue in cheek reference to the fact that the punk rock veterans aren't slowing down and always coming back for more.

    This album really exemplifies everything this band stands for. The record features intellectually challenging lyrics underlined by punchy punk rock stylistics as witnessed in the strong title track ''Zurück zum Glück''. The band also flirts with heavier sounds as powerful opener ''Kopf oder Zahl'' that talks about the band's return in style might qualify as alternative metal track. The band also offers a few genuine surprises such as the nervous orchestral track ''Die Behauptung'' that deals with inflammatory statements and its consequences which is even more valid in times of social media madness nowadays than it was one and a half decades ago. ''Herz brennt'' on the other side is rather stripped-down and focuses on melancholic guitar melodies anf melodramatic vocals singing about the difficult decline of a romantic relationship. ''Freunde'' is a beautiful ode to friendship being the one element that doesn't change in a world that is evolving faster than ever before. The band also offers a few light-hearted tunes such as ''Walkampf'' which is a play on words that could mean ''election campaign'' or ''whale struggle''. When everyone expected the band to write a song about political propaganda, the quintet actually delivered a humorous tune about a man trying to push a whale back into the ocean in a nightmare.

    Zurück zum Glück is a record that was on its pulse of time fifteen years ago and that has aged so well that it's even more relevant today than it was back then. Environment, politics and societies might have changed negatively but values such as friendship are things we can always hold on to. Travel back fifteen years in time and realize that some things haven't changed as much as one would believe in a globalized world. This album is an excellent introduction to the punk rock veterans and might be one of the band's most underrated albums.

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  • Good Charlotte - The Chronicles of Life and Death (2004)

    Pop punk was incredibly popular in the beginning of the new millennium with bands like Blink-182, Green Day and Sum 41 hitting the charts, having their music videos on MTV and their songs being on airplay on almost all radio channels. Good Charlotte, a quintet from Maryland, played a similar style and its second studio record The Young and the Hopeless made the band around identical twin brothers Benji and Joel Madden international superstars overnight. The band felt a lot of pressure while working on its third album The Chronicles of Life and Death. Instead of copying the vibrant punk rock style that criticized the rich and famous from the predecessor, the band emancipated with this release and went for a darker direction flirting with gothic rock stylistics.

    The combination of punk and gothic rock was certainly unusual and struck a chord with numerous teenagers back then. Punks now had a record to listen to with their gothic girlfriends, a combination that wasn't as usual as it might sound today. In hindsight, Good Charlotte have lost lots of credibility as the band members ultimately became the rich and famous they had once criticized over the years with Joel Madden dating teenage teen idol Hilary Duff and marrying socialite Nicole Richie and Benji Madden dating heiress Paris Hilton and marrying actress Cameron Diaz. The series The Simple Life featuring childhood friends Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton were actually hated by punks since those two ladies represented arrogant, rich and selfish young adults believing the world was theirs. Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton might have stylish looks but how anyone associated to punk culture could possibly date or even marry one of them is still not only oblivious to me but actually a repulsive thought.

    Back in the days, nobody would foresee such an outcome and realize that The Chronicles of Life and Death would actually be the band's last decent record. The Madden Brothers would even release a hip hop record only a few years after this album. You have to understand that music culture were even more important in the identification process of teenagers back in those days than it is today. Hip hop and rap culture were already domineering back then and people who listened to this type of mainstream music would often bully punks and gothics for their looks. I would neither describe myself as a punk nor a gothic but I always had a weak spot for people who were a little bit out of the ordinary and had friends who played in local punk bands and a girlfriend who identified with gothic culture. Teenagers seem to be far more mature these days as I haven't witnessed someone getting bullied for her or his musical tastes since I have finished high school.

    The lyrics on Good Charlotte's The Chronicles of Life and Death deal with relationship issues, hope through challenging moments and the difficulties of growing up. These are the types of lyrics you find really profound when you are between twelve and sixteen years old. This album was more than just music but a soundtrack for all these young outsiders that didn't want to blend in. The music was equally complex, dark and profound and featured string sections, melancholy guitar riffs and female choirs. Bombastic opener ''Once Upon a Time: The Battle of Life and Death'' features orchestral music and a female choir singing Japanese lyrics which already comes as a big surprise. Needless to tell you that this album did particularly well in Japan and that many teenagers back then and even nowadays are fascinated with said country's unique culture. First single ''Predictable'' had also been recorded in an alternative Japanese version and features melancholy string sections and dominant bass guitar sounds. Second single ''I Just Wanna Live'' features more upbeat string sections, nervous vocal parts and an explosive chorus with high-pitched vocals. ''The Truth'' is a moody piano ballad with heartfelt vocals and painful lyrics about a romantic relationship falling apart. Album closer ''In This World (Murder)'' includes acoustic guitar passages and dramatic choirs to end the album on an almost cinematic note.

    The Chronicles of Life and Death was released in two different versions. They were known as Death and Life versions, respectively. Each of them included a different bonus track. The best option is to purchase the Japanese version including both songs and also featuring the Japanese version of ''Predictable'' mentioned before.

    Good Charlotte might have changed for the worse throughout the past one and a half decades but The Chronicles of Life and Death is a wonderful memory of my teenage days and hasn't lost any of its charm. The record that is halfway between pop punk and gothic rock still sounds quite unique today. It represents teenage angst better than most other albums. Revisiting this album is also revisiting a time of challenges, changes and unique experiences. I rarely feel nostalgic at all but this record here makes me feel exactly this way.

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  • Blink-182 - Blink-182 (2003)

    Before I fell in love with heavy metal, I listened to a lot of punk music varying from The Ramones to Die toten Hosen and I certainly wasn't the only one. Pop punk was incredibly popular in my teenage years around the turn of the millennium and bands like Good Charlotte, Green Day and Sum 41 were all the rage. The combination of angry riffs, catchy choruses and angsty lyrics about identity, romance and uncertainty struck a chord with many teenagers back then. Blink-182's self-titled record was one of the first albums I have ever bought along with records from Linkin Park, Puddle of Mudd and Red Hot Chili Peppers. These records have aged really well and haven't lost anything of their magic from one and a half decades ago.

    Simply categorizing this release as pop punk would't be fair. It does indeed contain punk rock stylistics and pop choruses but it's so much more than that. Alternative rock musicianship meets moody gothic atmosphere in some tunes. Electronic elements intertwine with commercial rock vibes of the eighties. The fourteen tunes are incredibly eclectic but since all of them are performed with relentless conviction, genuine passion and energetic skills, the final result sounds absolutely outstanding.

    Despite the numerous experiments, this album still sounds like Blink-182 and respects all the trademarks the band had established over the previous four studio records. Travis Barker's drumming is more energetic than the performances of most extreme metal drummers but he also plays with lots of feeling. Tom DeLonge's vibrant guitar play and upbeat melodic vocals represent the band's expressive side. Mark Hoppus' domineering bass guitar and lower vocal register portray the group's moodier and more introspective side. The three musicians complement one another perfectly at the peak of their career as this is easily and by far Blink-182's greatest album.

    There are too many outstanding tunes to mention them all. On the expressive side, one could point out the sharp ''Obvious'' with its powerful guitar riffs, dynamic drumming and angry bass guitar tone that support emotional lyrics about a guy who is well aware of the fact that his girlfriend is cheating on him and it breaks his heart. On the more introspective side, the wonderful ballad ''I Miss You'' with its acoustic instrumental parts and bittersweet piano sounds is a moody gothic rock love song about two lovers missing each other which is something almost any human being can refer to. The experimental ''Stockholm Syndrome'' deals with a similar topic and opens with a voice actress reading a letter a soldier wrote to his wife during the Second World War and this part gets me every single time since I know the feeling of being separated from loved ones.

    Blink-182's self-titled album is the band's crowning achievement and more than a pop punk album but rather one of the greatest rock albums of its decade. If you haven't checked it out yet or feel like revisiting it, do yourself a favour and give its fourteen masterpieces a chance. The album will touch your soul, heart and brain and will make you feel at least fifteen years younger than you actually are.

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  • ''Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention?'' (lyrics from ''Sermon'')

    This is the first of a series of reviews revisiting influential records of the past that walk off the beaten path. I rediscovered Drowning Pool's Sinner when I recently found the album in a used record store for twenty-five cents and was ultimately able to purchase it for free with two other albums. Obviously, this nu metal milestone that was recently reissued as Unlucky 13th anniversary deluxe edition is worth far more than the fee I ended up paying for it. Read on to get to know more.

    Drowning Pool - Sinner (2001)

    Nu metal is a genre that has shaped rock and metal music in the beginning of the new millennium just like industriual metal in the mid-nineties, groove metal in the early nineties and extreme metal in the late eighties. These genres weren't immediately accepted and discussed quite controversially but they brought some fresh inspiration to a more and more diversified genre. Today's successors in spirit are Japanese kawaii metal bands with its combination of idol pop music, eclectic commercial music and melodic metal influences. Nu metal featured simple yet syncopated guitar riffs, a syteady rhythm section, aggressive vocals performing emotional lyrics and usually short and aggressive songs flirting at times with unusual genres like funk, grunge and hip hop.

    Drowning Pool was one of the first and important bands of this genre along with KoRn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park. The band's debut release Sinner was a huge success more than seventeen years ago and convinced with concise songwriting, brutal instrumentation and emotional lyrics. Several songs were fittingly used by World Wrestling Entertainment while others were used in the Dragon Ball Z series and the popular The Scorpion King movie.

    Despite being unexpectedly successful, Drowning Pool's Sinner is also related to the band's greatest tragedy from which it never truly recovered and which explains why Drowning Pool hasn't become as popular as KoRn, Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park in the long run. Charismatic singer Dave Williams who performs angry shouts, unchained screams, uplifting melodic lines, mantra-like chants and even uses lower register vocals died of cardiomyopathy while touring with his band in support of this breakthrough record.

    Sinner is his testament to the world and it's an diversified, emotive, entertaining, passionate and powerful heritage. The short and concise opener ''Sinner'' comes around with memorable chorus, inspired lyrics and powerful riffs in less than two and a half minutes. The sinister yet energetic ''Bodies'' about the brotherhood of the moshpit is still one of the most popular nu metal songs ever released. The greatest song on this record might be the melancholic ''Tear Away'' with its discordant industrial riffs cointrasted by passionately melodic vocals. These are only the first three songs of the record but instead of getting weaker, Drowning Pool's Sinner convinces from start to finish with ten clever songs and a concise running time of thorty-seven and a half minutes.

    This consistent nu metal milestone hasn't lost any of its creativity, emotions and energy. It has stood the test of time and can be remembered as a monument of the nu metal genre in a time when this type of music has become less important. Revisiting this record is a violent fun ride and emotional trip down memory lane. Crank up the volume and enjoy it to the fullest.

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