Review: Simple Plan’s ‘Taking One For The Team’ Perfectly Blends Familiar Pop Punk & New Experimentation

Simple Plan’s new album, Taking One For The Team, has been long in the making. The band first started writing for it in 2014, and after premiering “Boom” live at the end of the year, they kicked off 2015 by entering the studio to officially begin recording. Since last spring, Simple Plan has released a handful of new songs from the sessions: “Saturday” was a standalone single, but the rest appear on the album, including promo singles “Boom” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Sad.” The first official single was “I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed” featuring Nelly, and just a couple weeks ago we got to hear “Opinion Overload.” The hype stayed high as Simple Plan teased us with 15-second clips and a few full song premieres this week. Now the day is here, and on first listen it sounds like Taking One For The Team truly lives up to the ever-growing anticipation.

The easiest way to describe Taking One For The Team is similar to how we’d describe their last album, 2011’s Get Your Heart On: That is, it’s a perfect balance of “old” Simple Plan and the “new,” more experimental Simple Plan. The band’s first two albums of the early 2000s placed them neatly in the pop punk music sphere. They were youthful, straightforward, and energetic, and could easily be compared to the other pop punk bands of the time. Simple Plan attracted their earliest fans thanks to songs like “Addicted,” “Perfect,” “Welcome To My Life,” and “Shut Up.” On the other hand, Simple Plan surprised fans with the release of their self-titled third album in 2008. Simple Plan was markedly different from its two predecessors: It was slick, more pop-oriented, and unafraid of stepping outside of the box a bit. It garnered mixed reactions from fans; while some (like myself) loved the new direction, others felt like it wasn’t “true” Simple Plan.

In 2011, Simple Plan’s album Get Your Heart On attempted to combine these two sides. Nearly all fans could be happy when the pop punk Simple Plan they knew and loved was evenly mixed with the more surprising pop songs.

Now, five years later, Taking One For The Team continues to bridge “old” Simple Plan with “new.” It’s similar to Get Your Heart On in that sense, but not the same. Get Your Heart On was more unpredictable: It had standouts like “Summer Paradise,” “Astronaut,” “Jet Lag,” and “This Song Saved My Life,” but it also had less convincing songs like “Freaking Me Out.” Taking One For The Team is more balanced and consistent in terms of quality; its lows are not as low, though its highs may not seem as high by comparison. On the new album, the music is more reliably good, making for an overall stronger album.

Taking One For The Team is a dynamic album, with each song fitting together despite not being too similar. Fans get a fair dose of the familiar pop punk style we know and love in songs like “Opinion Overload,” “Farewell,” “Everything Sucks,” and “I Refuse.” These songs are more than just a convincing throwback: They’re so well crafted that they can transport you back to the early 2000s and make you believe you’re actually back in your old bedroom first discovering pop punk music. On the flip side, we also get to hear Simple Plan stepping into new territory in songs like “I Don’t Wanna Be Sad,” “Singin’ In The Rain,” “I Dream About You,” and “I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed.” These are tracks you would never have heard on No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls or Still Not Getting Any…; rather, they remind you that the year is in fact 2016 and Simple Plan is no longer content to stay stuck in their genre’s box. This fearless experimentation makes Simple Plan a band that evolves instead of simply treading water. Slick funky pop and soulful, gospel-inspired tunes fit in perfectly with the straightforward  pop-punk songs of Simple Plan’s back catalog.

Taking One For The Team is a great album, and the perfect marriage of all they’ve done before mixed with all the new territory they’re willing to cover. Simple Plan’s earliest fans and most recent converts can all find something to enjoy on this album; and if your taste is as far-reaching as theirs, you will find yourself loving all 14 songs.

 

Track by Track

“Opinion Overload”Taking One For The Team opens with Simple Plan’s newest single, “Opinion Overload.” One of the last songs they wrote for the album, it’s also a throwback to their simple, old-school style. The band said that the song is “about getting back to our roots and reminding ourselves and everyone else what this band is all about.” “Opinion Overload” is a punchy opener much like “Shut Up” from Still Not Getting Any… and a great way to kick off the album.

Boom” – The transition from “Opinion Overload” to “Boom” isn’t the greatest, but the quality of the songs makes up for that. “Boom” was the first promo single for the album (after “Saturday,” which did not make the tracklist), and one of the highlights here. It’s a love song for couples that have been together for months or years, one that many of the band’s fans can likely relate to. It has nice mid-tempo verses and more energetic choruses, venturing into a little more pop especially in the bridge. It’s a sing-along song that stands out on the album.

Kiss Me Like Nobody’s Watching” – Following a similar mood, “Kiss Me Like Nobody’s Watching” is also an upbeat love song. It has a pounding, cheery beat complemented by a chanted “la la la” refrain. It has energy and an endearing lyric, and “Kiss Me Like Nobody’s Watching” is a fun highlight on the record.

“Farewell” (featuring Jordan Pundik) – The band is joined by New Found Glory’s singer Jordan Pundik on “Farewell,” and the pairing of two pop punk leaders helps make this one of the most convincing throwback tracks on the album. The beginning of each verse is an epic melody that could have come straight from the early 2000s. It’s a rather nostalgic song, both simple and endearing. Simple Plan told Alternative Press about the song:

“Farewell” is one of the last songs we wrote and recorded for our new album Taking One For The Team and definitely a favorite for us! It combines a lot of classic, old-school, pop-punk vibes, with some more modern influences from all of the newer bands coming into the scene. We really love that post-chorus melody with the awesome guitar riff Jeff plays and the breakdown drum beat—it’s heavy but so catchy! One of the highlights of this album is having our good friend Jordan from New Found Glory make an appearance on this track. He sounds so good singing that second verse; the melody suits him perfectly, and it sounds rad and exciting when he comes in for his part. He really killed it, and we’re proud to have him sing with us. Lyrically, at first glance, this feels like a straight up, bittersweet breakup song, and in a way it is, but while we were writing it, we were also channeling a lot of different emotions and there’s a second hidden, deeper meaning to every line that relates to being in a band. We’ll let you guys figure that one out!

“Singing In The Rain” (featuring R. City) – With track 5, Simple Plan is ready to change gears a bit. “Singing In The Rain” has a laid-back island groove, with a chill and lighthearted mood. The sound is similar to their 2011 hit, “Summer Paradise,” and it may seem like they’re trying to recreate that magic. Nonetheless, it’s a cute, funny song with an uplifting theme (much like track 11, “I Don’t Wanna Be Sad”). “Singing In The Rain” gets better with each listen.

Everything Sucks” –  We’ve known about “Everything Sucks” for a full year now, but this is the first time we’ve gotten to hear the whole song. “Everything Sucks” seems to combine Simple Plan’s straightforward, peppy style with a few unexpected elements. It’s punk yet soulful, and for a breakup song it sure is upbeat and fun. “Everything Sucks” is the kind of song all Simple Plan fans can enjoy.

I Refuse” – Pierre first mentioned “I Refuse” in a Facebook chat video a few months ago, describing it as an anti-bullying song. Although it sounds energetic and punchy, it also has a great message that many people need to hear: Some people will try to pull you down, but it’s important to know who you are and not give in to others’ pressure. There’s strength in this inspiring track. In a recent behind-the-scenes video, the band members compared “I Refuse” to songs like “Shut Up” and “Thank You.”

I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed” (featuring Nelly) – The first official single was “I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed” last October. It’s one of the most refreshing songs on Taking One For The Team. It’s funky and slick, throwing in horns and a little help from Nelly. Simple Plan seems to be the best when they step outside their comfort zone, and this is proof of that. Songs that are more unexpected and genre-defying are the most surprising, and “I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed” is certainly a highlight on the record.

“Nostalgic” – “Nostalgic” begins with a long guitar intro, bringing it back to Simple Plan’s early years. Pierre namedrops punk band the Descendents.  It’s fitting that this youthful, fun song brings up such nostalgia in its sound. “Nostalgic” could have been on one of the band’s first two albums, and it gives Taking One For The Team a great boost in energy.

“Perfectly Perfect” – The opposite of “Nostalgic” is the acoustic guitar driven “Perfectly Perfect.” Simple Plan wrote it with the Plain White T’s frontman Tom Higgenson, and his influence shows. The song is sweet and tender, much like the Plain White T’s hit “Hey There Delilah,” and the lyrical subject could be compared to Bruno Mars’s “Just The Way You Are.” “Perfectly Perfect” is a gentle reminder that even though this girl may have insecurities and find imperfections in herself, Pierre loves everything about her. Pierre told CBC Music about the song:

I think most people have a distorted view of themselves. We all obsess about little things that bother us about ourselves, when most people wouldn’t even notice or might actually find them charming.

I Don’t Wanna Be Sad” – Brining it up again is the second promo single, “I Don’t Wanna Be Sad.” This is the most soulful track on the album, with clear gospel influences and a bullet-proof will to be happy again. Pierre describes symptoms of lasting depression, but he’s willing to try anything to lift his mood again: Exercise, therapy, self compliments, and of course this impossibly uplifting song. “I Don’t Wanna Be Sad” is still the top highlight on the album, and one that will garner endless replays.

“P.S. I Hate You” – The energy remains high, but “P.S. I Hate You” is not quite so happy as the previous track. It has the classic, early 21st century punk perfection sound again, and this time the lyrics sound like old-school Simple Plan too. It’s a vengeful track with a fair dose of lighthearted humor. Whoever Sofia is, she sure did inspire a great song.

“Problem Child” – Track 13 brings it all the way back to No Pads, No Helmets… Just Balls. “Problem Child” sounds like a “Perfect” 2.0 – Pierre sings of parent-son complications in this soft ballad as he apologizes for being a problem child to his mom and dad. It’s an acoustic guitar and piano driven song that recalls one of Simple Plan’s biggest hits, and it turned out beautifully.

“I Dream About You” (featuring Juliet Simms) – The final track on the album is a bit surprising, and new territory for the band musically. “I Dream About You” has an atmospheric, dreamy vibe amplified by strings and echoed vocals. It’s only a shame the song doesn’t stretch out longer, because the sound is lush and a beautiful way to end the album.

 

Highlights on Taking One For The Team include “Boom,” “Kiss Me Like Nobody’s Watching,” “Singing In The Rain,” “I Don’t Wanna Go To Bed,” “Perfectly Perfect,” “I Don’t Wanna Be Sad,” “P.S. I Hate You,” and “I Dream About You”

You can buy Taking One For The Team on iTunes now.

Simple Plan Taking One For The Team

Amanda

I earned my master's degree in Music Business from Berklee College of Music in Valencia, and have since worked in a variety of areas within the music industry. Music is my life, and I'm excited to be part of the future of Hidden Jams.

Amanda

I earned my master's degree in Music Business from Berklee College of Music in Valencia, and have since worked in a variety of areas within the music industry. Music is my life, and I'm excited to be part of the future of Hidden Jams.

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