Order in Decline is not so much an album as a statement. The 10-song, 36-minute album released this past July makes no attempt to hide the subject of its angry, driven songs behind deep metaphors and clever wordplay. Instead, Sum 41 are about as on-the-nose as one can get; the sixth track on the album is named “45 (Matter of Time).” In divisive, hyper-polarized and politically tumultuous times, angry bands will make angry music about why they’re angry. Just look at Green Day’s American Idiot, U2’s War, and the existence of the Dead Kennedys as a whole. Order in Decline marks another entry in this subset of raging, politically-fuelled albums. What it doesn’t do, however, is stand out.
Play the album from the beginning and you may mistake it for the intro to a new Netflix Original period drama, with a looming piano melody that would fit rather well over a slow-moving, ink-spilling title screen. Mere seconds later, you’re hit with a heavy, driving guitar, followed by an engaging drum build-up that grabs your attention and makes you want to know where this is going. The middle school emo in my college self awakened when the quiet, near-whisper melody began to drone over a pumping bass and a simple kick drum. What I wasn’t as ready for was the short and heavy instrumental section that let you know Sum 41 now has three guitarists instead of two (surprise!). Following this is a chorus that reminds one of The Offspring, before devolving into a shredding guitar solo. The song plays with dynamics and is heavier than what the band has put out before. For those who only know them from In Too Deep, you may find this first track unrecognizable.
Except, as the album progresses, “Turning Away” becomes all too recognizable. That is, an hour after listening to the album all the way through, I could not tell you which song is which. For the most part, they follow a pattern: start off with a dramatic intro that doesn’t tie too much into the rest of the song; alternate between uber-heavy and near-acoustic sounds; include a rather unnecessary guitar solo that would probably look cool at parties but is really just noise; talk about the current American administration and how it has caused political turmoil. Order in Decline presents ten songs, and I felt as though there were really only four — seven of the tracks were pretty indistinguishable. If you want to test this for yourself, play :
1. “Turning Away”
2. “Out for Blood”
3. “The New Sensation”
4. “A Death in the Family”
8. “Eat You Alive”
9. “The People Vs…”
back-to-back. While all of these songs are obviously not in the same key, don’t have the same tempo, and have different lyrics, listening straight through felt like watching a marathon of a TV show you don’t really like while being unable to change the channel.
You may notice that I didn’t include numbers 5, 7, and 10. While the majority of this album feels like it’s filler, Order in Decline does have some diamonds in the rough. The fifth Track, “Heads Will Roll,” makes me feel like I’m in the middle of a slo-mo bar fight scene in Sons of Anarchy — in the best way possible. The simpler, not-as-heavy instrumentals had me tapping my feet along to the beat, while the lyrics made this song a definite play in my workout playlist. Also included in “Heads Will Roll” is a sleek, simple guitar solo. While it’s not nearly as shreddy or technically impressive as those in other songs on this album, it’s significantly more enjoyable and feels more integrated into the song. As far as Sum 41’s heavier tracks on the album go, this is by far my favorite and what I wish the rest of the songs were more like.
Tracks seven and ten are a different story entirely. Interspersed amongst political, seething, near-metal tracks are two painfully open and vulnerable ballads. They don’t fit into the album at all — that much is evident. Usually, including random slow songs in such an uptempo album would garner a skip from me. “Never There” and “Catching Fire”, however, are different. “Never There” is an honest and emotional insight into the mind of singer Deryck Whibley. In a previous interview about the record, Whibley claimed he wanted to give the song away because it didn’t feel like a Sum 41 song, and it definitely didn’t feel like an Order in Decline song. But maybe it should be. “Never There” caught my attention and kept it throughout the entire playtime, making me get a bit emotional myself. Though a significant sonic departure, it is a well-crafted song that deserves a spot in anyone’s “bag” playlist.
The tenth and final song, “Catching Fire” is no different. Describing the difficulties of dealing with the premature death someone he held close, Whibley pours his heart and soul into the track and presents the ugly truth of grief. The arena ballad is an odd choice for the band who wrote “In Too Deep”, but it works surprisingly well. With the combination of its droning acoustic instruments, candid lyrics, and excellent vocal delivery, “Catching Fire” is perhaps my favorite on the album.
Taken as a whole, Order in Decline fails to stand out. It’s mostly populated by the same song played in different ways. However, in those brief few minutes when Sum 41 dares to step out of their mold, they do so surprisingly well with impactful and meaningful music. If the band were to come out with an album filled with nothing but songs like the standouts of Order in Decline, it would be on my heavily-played list. In its current form, though, Order in Decline is woefully mediocre.
Article By: Connor Boxczyk