The level of confusion that comes with watching a Blink-182 tribute band is unusually surprising. I sang along as Blank-281 covered song after song, ranging from “All the Small Things” to deeper cuts off Dude Ranch. Ten years ago, it would have been difficult to visualize the pop punk equivalent of Australian Pink Floyd making a living from the level of nostalgia and straight-laced energy that comes with this genre. When I began listening to pop punk, I would’ve killed for a band that plays covers of all these songs that I held so dear. The genre’s simplicity and straightforward disposition about growing pains always resonated with me, and listening to a lot of pop punk has made me particularly literate in what the genre is all about.
Pop punk doesn’t have the same hit that it did when I was younger, which makes listening to bands like the Liverpool quartet WSTR even more confusing. New pop punk doesn’t pry at a desire for nostalgia for a time now past, nor does it have the same context as it did when I avidly followed the genre. This style of music copies itself and moves on at the blink of an eye, with hot new bands turning into nostalgia trips quicker than ever, making sustained literacy in the genre even more difficult. WSTR’s debut, Red, Green or Inbetween, is as fresh as it gets for me, challenging the literacy for pop punk that I developed when I was in high school. In fashioning a lot of old tricks into a straightforward pop punk record, WSTR show off a spirited grasp of the basic foundations that make this genre what it is in the year 2017.
The album opener, “Featherweight”, indulges itself in all the tricks that one could expect from a pop punk band in 2017. The song is driven by forceful power chords and a Warped Tour friendly bounce to it, with lead singer Sammy Clifford highlighting the track with his gruff yet melodic vocal style. Combining the catchiness and sweetness in the vein of State Champs with the more aggressive ethos of The Story So Far or Forever Came Calling, “Featherweight” feels right at home in a post-Vine era, with Clifford yelling that “we’re fucking great at being basic” reflecting pop punk’s ability to pick up on what adolescent dynamics are developing. Yes, I am an adolescent who says “basic” frequently, but its use in this song suits the elasticity of the genre, not to mention its loyalty to genre construction through its up-tempo, hi hat driven pop punk energy infusion in the second verse rooting the song in pop punk.
Throughout Red, Green or Inbetween, it’s not hard to notice the songwriting palette that the band and its ancestors have drawn from for year. “Eastbound & Down” serves as a British counterexample to the American pop punk melancholy that romanticizes California. Kicking off with shimmering guitars and Clifford’s voice singing “There she goes/she flies out to the east coast of the states/but I’ll remain here alone”, the song turns to a glossy companion to “Mt. Diablo”, albeit a little less misogynistic and a little more self-reflective. That being said, “Nail the Casket (Thanks for Nothing)” does manage to speak to the awkward relationship between pop punk bands and the girls they speak about. The question of “Why do girls take turns leaving me to burn?” at the end of the first verse quickly answers itself in the chorus, where Clifford sings, “You’d rather talk it out/I’d rather disconnect my jaw”. This combination of poor relationship habits with a lack of self-awareness is a little jarring, but it’s not like the band makes us expect anything different. Their loyalty to 2010s pop punk tropes is clear from front to back, so it’s hard to expect anything more sophisticated than catchy choruses and loud power chords.
We’ve seen the best of what this genre offers, and if you’re not listening with the teenage zeal that rests purely upon the love for power chords and loud choruses, then it only makes sense to listen with an ear for bringing something new to the table. There’s nothing wrong for listening to pop punk for the sake it, but it’s important to recognize these intentions for what they are. WSTR tackles their intentions loosely, using sugary melodies and rough romantic angst to cook another batch of pop punk cookies with Red, Green or Inbetween. The cookies taste good and don’t challenge your taste buds too much, even for those who haven’t bothered with the genre in years. The most that you can get from this record is knowing this band knows how to make cookies, and there’s not much more to expect from them aside from that.
In fashioning a lot of old tricks into a straightforward pop punk record, WSTR show off a spirited grasp of the basic foundations that make this genre what it is in the year 2017.