Album Review: Good Charlotte - 'Generation RX'
Good Charlotte are one of those bands that are never going to cease being relevant. Having been a prominent name in rock music arguably since their forming in 1996- or certainly since their sophomore album ‘The Young and the Hopeless’, which has since received triple platinum certification, in addition to being listed in the top 20 of Rolling Stones’ ‘50 Greatest Pop-Punk Albums’ - they have toured the world, whether supporting the likes of Justin Timberlake towards the beginning of their career, recently playing Rock Am Ring festival with Foo Fighters, or on their own, very substantial merit. Their return from their six-year hiatus, in the form of 2016’s ‘Youth Authority’ preceded a slot headlining ‘The Pit/ Lock-Up Stage’ at Reading and Leeds, with crowds spilling from the tents in their desperation to see the band. It led to a clamouring from other artists to collaborate with these revered rock legends, from the likes of Avenged Sevenfold and Tonight Alive. It’s led to, now, a night at the iconic Alexandra Palace in London. Their music has always been shaped by the voice of the generation in which it is set- and their seventh album, ‘Generation Rx’, is no different, encapsulating the complacent zeitgeist of technological dependence, of lives spent on social media in place of real life, and of a generation where escape is sought in whatever form it can be found.
Good Charlotte, from Waldorf, Maryland, are brothers Joel and Benji Madden, Billy Martin, Paul Thomas and Dean Butterworth. Forming in 1996, ‘Generation Rx’ Mark’s the latest offering in a string of successful records and reflects a band going from strength to strength, over twenty years on.
It opens with the eponymous title track, ‘Generation Rx’, a contemplative, harmonious and meandering affair. The first half of the song is a gentle, primarily instrumental number, with hushed whispers and paranoid wonderings which signify a life spent in the shadows. This slowly builds momentum, with the Madden Brothers asking ‘where does all this pain come from... Am I divine?/ Am I alone?’ This introspective opener seems to reference the ongoing battle with mental health which plagues the music industry- the contrast between fame and everything that comes with it, and the debilitating loneliness that can accompany it. This may have been inspired by the tragic death of American rapper Lil Peep- the band performed at his memorial and decided to write this record shortly after. The song quickly transitions into ‘Self Help’, full of electronic echoing and pain-drenched lyrics- with ‘To cut like a knife / It feels like a fight / To take back your life’ being particularly memorable. Ostensibly referring to self-harm, a common symptom of depression, it doesn’t necessarily refer to only the physical side of it- rather, the idea of damaging yourself mentally and the pain that can accompany trying to piece yourself back together again. In this way, the electronic production, which reduces some of the rawness of the track, is a blessing- trying to hide the vulnerability of the lyrics and pretending to be better, more whole, than it is; in the same way that depression is often hidden behind pretty and polished facades and as such can be so hard to diagnose and identify.
Following on from this are the three singles from the album: ‘Shadowboxer’, ‘Actual Pain’ and ‘Prayers.’ ‘Shadowboxer’, described as ‘an upheaval of distortion which confronts self-doubt head on’, is a song focussed on confronting that pain which haunts both the band and the listener. The line ‘you cause your own suffering’ forced the listener to examine the fact that, for the most part, a lot of the negativity is in fact caused by their own psyche, whether by self-doubt, paranoia, insecurity or whatever else. Next comes ‘Actual Pain’, the first single to be released with the album’s announcement. The themes behind the songs may be shared, but each song is distinct in its own way. ‘Actual Pain’- the title of which refers to the refusal of many to address their own mental health, and the idea that mental health is a genuine thing. It’s about a relationship in which both partners are haunted by the same dark cloud of negativity, being torn apart; giving each other their hearts but ‘the darkness still remains’. Yet the pain they feel is what makes their love real, refusing to succumb to the darkness and pain and persevering regardless. However, the question of where the pain comes from remains answered, being ‘too scared to look behind that door’ and see whether it is their love for each other that is ultimately resulting in the pain they feel, whether they are constantly and consistently hurting each other.
Next up is ‘Prayers’- a pensive song and the middle track of the album about how prayers aren’t being heard. ‘Why do we kill each other... we keep building walls between each other’s prayers’. The prayers aren’t the issue, however. ‘Prayers’ is about how prayers aren’t always enough. ‘There are young people who aren’t safe. They’re the kids. We’re the adults. It’s our job to keep them safe’ elaborates Joel. ‘Prayers aren’t being heard’- and as such, ‘Prayers’, between its thought provoking lyrics and it’s powerful message, becomes as much a political rock song as it does a thought provoking third single.
Then comes ‘Cold Song’, the true ballad of the album. Piano and strings dominate the song, with a slow drum beat merely adding to the auditory visuals, of thousands of lighters flickering in the sky. ‘Even though life is full of pain, we are not alone’- and much like the song says, ‘We gotta hold onto each other’. A beautifully rendered song full of pathos and pain- which is quickly replaced by ‘Leeches’, featuring Architects frontman Sam Carter, about being abandoned as a child and being forced to figure it all out on your own. The opening lyrics, ‘Born to the leeches’, reflects how life can often feel as if it is constantly sucking life from your bones, dragging you down- to quote Samuel Beckett, ‘we are born astride of the grave’. A dark song, devoid of a sense of hope, yet still cathartic in its anger, dealing with ‘the demons’ which plague us.
The penultimate song, ‘Better Demons’ opens with an introduction taken from a 1990 documentary entitled Child of Rage: A story of abuse, about a young girl who suffered abuse at at early age and was emotionally stinted. This song is as dark lyrically as it is nihilistic. The chorus, ‘I’m just holding onto my better demons... I really need them not to fail me now’- , reflects the idea of there being a lesser of two evils, which results in comparatively less pain. This, as opposed to trying to face your demons head on and overcoming them, is a stark contrast to the earlier messages of hope and unity in the face of pain- instead, it insists that holding onto a degree of pain is better than trying to beat it all and ending up numb. It then ends on a suitably dark outro- an excerpt of an interview with an abuse victim, with the victim describing her nightmares and scenes of the abuse inflicted on her by her father.
Thankfully, the final song of the album is slightly more upbeat in both tone and meaning. Despite being primarily a heartfelt assurance to the brothers’ children that they can always return to California, it is just as intimate to the listener, ending on an overwhelming feeling of hope. From ‘How special you are... I hope you feel like a million’ to ‘Some things never change, like the way I say ‘I love you’’, the song is full of reassurances and uplifting messages to all that life can and will always get better.
As songs, none seem as instantly memorable as, say, ‘The Anthem’. However, as an album, it is tremendous. Listening to it in one sitting enables the listener to see the mental state of these revered rockers and feel closer to them than ever before. More importantly, Good Charlotte are able to offer support around any feelings of self-doubt or depression by reflecting those very same feelings in their work; which, in a music industry constantly in turmoil from the deaths of music legends due to depression- most recently Mac Miller- is just what is needed. A brilliant seventh offering.
Words by James O’Sullivan