It can be tough to find new creative kicks when you've been a successful band for 20 years – something American rockers Good Charlotte know all too well.
The band established the perfect pop-punk formula in 2000, with their self-titled debut album and its 2002 follow-up The Young and the Hopeless. They then embarked on a fair bit of experimentation for the five albums that followed, playing with different sounds ranging from goth- and arena-rock to electronica and new wave.
But after the relative success of their sixth album, 2016's exuberantly poppy Youth Authority, Good Charlotte have grown weary of all the tricks and have decided to just get back to what's real. "It comes from maturity," lead singer Joel Madden tells us before his performance at the Singapore Formula One after-party at the Podium Lounge last month. "You get to a stage where you realise who you are as a band and a brand, and you are OK with it. Now I feel the band is as strong as it has ever been and we still have momentum, which is crazy considering how long we've been doing this."
The realisation that the group is a sum of all its parts allowed them to approach their new record, Generation RX, with a new-found focus. From the start, this project was an in-house job. The album was recorded in their own studio, songwriting duties were taken on together and Madden's twin brother, guitarist and vocalist Benji, even stepped into the producer's chair. The end result is Generation RX – their tightest set of songs in more than a decade.
In nine songs, lasting just over 30 minutes, the band hit hard with frenzied and anthemic numbers that delve into the darker aspects of our psyche. “We wanted it to be very short and sweet. We actually nailed it, almost, with this 30-minute listen,” Madden says. “We wanted it to be almost like a TV show episode. Like you watch it, it’s over, and you want more.”
The brevity works as it allows the listener to easily digest Generation RX's heavy subject matter. The songs deal with those moments when we are alone, away from loved ones, and when all we have is our gnawing self-doubt. It's an issue deeply personal to Madden, who admits to having experienced a lack of self-worth for most of his life.
It's an experience shared in the blistering Self Help, where the guitars and synths crash in and out like unwelcome thoughts, as a clear-eyed Madden, 39, paints a picture of a mind wracked with insecurities: "And it cuts like a knife / It feels like a fight / To take back your life." Madden says: "That's straight-up, autobiographical. That's me writing a diary and giving it to people, and that song is setting up the idea of the record.
“This is what we’re doing here. We’re living in these feelings; we’re not running from them, we’re not killing them, we’re not taking anything. Let us do the work that’s needed and go on the ride.”
That notion of taking action is prevalent in Generation RX and is laid bare in the heart-felt lament of Prayers. As well as being a fiery rebuke to American politicians' responses to gun crime, Madden trains his sights at the United States conservative Christian lobby for not practising what they preach. "It's just so ugly in America right now. And I wonder and question a large group of people following a religion or an idea, but not really living it every day in the physical space, like not loving their neighbour."
Madden admits that he has come a long way from the brash youth who poked fun at celebrity culture in the band's biggest hit Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous from their second album, to being a well-respected coach on the television talent show The Voice Australia. Madden credits his deeper perspective to being a family man; he is a father of two with his wife, US reality television star and fashion designer Nicole Richie – daughter of pop crooner Lionel Richie. That said, Madden describes being a husband and father as a work in progress. "I'm still the same kid that's trying to figure it out. It's just when you're with your kids, and you're being a father, you have no choice but to show up and take the wheel and do your job," he says.
“What my kids and my wife did is to ground me. They give me a reason to be OK with myself. I don’t feel the need to try and prove to the world that I’m anything at all, other than who I am to them. When I was younger, I think I felt like I needed to constantly sell something. I needed that validation, and that’s what my family gave me. It is the first time I’ve felt good enough.”
Generation RX by Good Charlotte is out now.
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