Pennywise – ‘Never Gonna Die’

By Tom Walsh

When George W Bush entered the White House in 2001, it set the fuse for a cultural backlash that would be a prominent feature during his first term. Many who felt betrayed by their government chose defiance, and the protest song became their weapon of choice. The music community had a common enemy to unite against. The catastrophes of Hurricane Katrina and the Iraq War were set against a soundtrack of voices raging against the machine.

A nation scarred by the aftermath of disaster was angry, and the records of the time reflected this. NOFX’s ‘War on Errorism’ tackled the misdemeanours of the president head-on while Green Day revived their flagging career by donning eyeliner and compelling everyone to “sing along to the age of paranoia” on ‘American Idiot’. Punk was the apex of the United States’ unrest.

It only highlights the absurdity of the world we live in now that the ‘Rock Against Bush’ records are kitsch relics of a bygone era. Now that the leader of the free world openly threatens war crimes against other countries and shares racist videos on Twitter, protest and defiance is once again dominating our airwaves. So it is only fitting that SoCal punk royalty Pennywise make their return. The poignantly titled ‘Never Gonna Die’ is the call to arms you’d expect from veterans who have been pumping out anthems for three decades straight.

The chaos of the world we live in is mirrored in this breathless record. The opener and title track fires straight into the thrashing riffs and pulsing drum beats that are the hallmarks of every Pennywise album. ‘American Lies’ rather bluntly takes on the increasing influence of misinformation and the overwhelming amount of fake news. Jim Lindberg’s signature vocals bear a sense of eye-rolling annoyance at what this world has become as he declares, “if you don’t agree with me/then you must believe American Lies’.

Pennywise’s extended time away from the studio has reinvigorated the quartet. Their approach feels fresh with a new enemy to rage against, but while ‘Never Gonna Die’ is the release valve of the pent-up ball of rage, there are some moments of trepidation. ‘Can’t Be Ignored’ is an admittance of entering a period of the unknown, and has the air of the calm before the storm, as Lindberg repeats the ominous warning: “the animals know what’s in store”. Similarly, the opening riff of ‘Can’t Save You Now’ includes haunting clips of Trump echoing in the background, as if these would be the words we hear as we close the doors on our nuclear bunker.

Closer ‘Something New’ is Lindberg’s vision of hope even in the darkest moments. It is a final rallying cry, to right the wrongs that have been committed in these scary times. He poses the not unreasonable question: “how long would it take us to finally make something new? When will we wake up and stop getting screwed?”.

On the day following Donald Trump’s election victory, the subway underneath New York’s 14th Street was filled with notes displaying messages of despair, support and bemusement. One simply read: “we need punk rock now more than ever”. In a world paralysed by fear and confusion, it is the protest song that helps us stand up.

TOM WALSH

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