Underclass Hero

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Underclass Hero
A monochrome image of vocalist Deryck Whibley spitting in a hallway
Studio album by
ReleasedJuly 18, 2007
RecordedNovember 6, 2006 – March 14, 2007
StudioOcean Way, Los Angeles, California; Sound City, Van Nuys, California; Sage & Sound, Hollywood, California
GenrePop punk
Length51:49
Label
ProducerDeryck Whibley
Sum 41 chronology
Chuck
(2004)
Underclass Hero
(2007)
Screaming Bloody Murder
(2011)
Singles from Underclass Hero
  1. "Underclass Hero"
    Released: May 15, 2007
  2. "Walking Disaster"
    Released: July 23, 2007
  3. "With Me"
    Released: February 28, 2008

Underclass Hero is the fourth studio album by Canadian rock band Sum 41. It is the first of two albums by the band recorded without guitarist Dave Baksh since he left a year earlier to focus on Brown Brigade. The album was recorded as a threepiece. The album was first released July 18, 2007 in Japan. It was released under the Island Records label and distributed worldwide by Universal Records, by Aquarius Records. There are no photos of the band inside the liner notes, though the front cover features a monochrome image of vocalist Deryck Whibley spitting in a hallway. In comparison to the heavy metal-inspired punk style of Sum 41's previous album, Chuck, Underclass Hero is where the band return to their famous pop punk style. The album’s lyrical content, while not written as a rock opera, is loosely tied conceptually, with the album’s lyrics focusing on subjects such as politics, religion and family life.

The album was a commercial success, peaking at number 1 on the Canadian Albums Chart and at number 7 on the US Billboard 200, becoming the band’s highest-charting album to date. It received generally mixed reviews from critics, with some praising its songwriting, lyrics and production, while others found it to be too long, melodramatic, and derivative. The album would become the band's last release for four years until 2011's Screaming Bloody Murder. It is also Sum 41's last release on Aquarius.

Background[edit]

In 2004, Sum 41 released Chuck, which became a success upon release, gaining high success on the charts and receiving praise from critics. The album had a more heavy metal-influenced sound, and the band gained multiple awards for the album. The band spent most of 2005 and some of 2006 touring in support of Chuck until problems arose. In mid 2006, the band's lead guitarist Dave Brownsound had left the band due to arguing with Deryck about the band's musical direction afterwards. Whibley wanted to go to an "artistic", pop punk style while Dave opted for a more metal-esque sound.

Whibley did not want to have to produce the album, and admitted to "not looking forward to it". However, since they were unable to find a producer, Whibley had to take this upon himself. Whibley found himself writing several songs, each in different ways. "Usually, the first things I come up with are terrible, so I continued writing and told myself that most of them would suck", Whibley said. "So I showed everyone what I wrote and then I looked through them all and picked the best ones in the end." Whibley also admitted to being paranoid of writing, and was worried how it would turn out in the end, and Whibley referred to this as "writer's block". He said "I sometimes felt surprised once I finished writing and thought to myself 'How did that happen?'. And the writing for the album took a long time, I think I took around ten months to write these songs".

Whibley decided to be original with the songwriting, and said that "the only way to be completely original is to write about myself. So I decided to look into my thoughts that I'd never even touched and came up with all of these topics that were very deep and personal." Drummer Steve Jocz said that Whibley "spent a lot of time to himself" and that he didn't "open up". Jocz went on to say that the things Whibley wrote were so personal that even the band members did not know about them in the past. He also mentioned that Whibley "doesn't open up with anyone outside the band". Jocz and McCaslin were often surprised by Whibley’s songwriting, as it was more personal than the band's previous work. Whibley thought that writing more personal songs would make people like the album more because it's more "honest". McCaslin felt that writing like this was a big move because "letting the whole world know about things like Whibley not knowing his father seemed hard things to write about."

The album title's similarity to John Lennon's hit "Working Class Hero" is not a coincidence, according to the band's front man Whibley, who in an interview with Sun Media claimed Lennon as his favorite songwriter.

"I had to decide what I wanted to say with my music, I asked myself all these questions and then just pulled up my own answers and started writing songs based on those themes. I wanted to make an album that meant something important from beginning to end. I wanted it to have relevance and significance. It's a deeply personal statement that reflects the confusion and frustration in modern society."

— Deryck Whibley

Recording and production[edit]

Sum 41 playing live at Club Oxygen on March 7, 2008

After Baksh's departure, the band took a break from touring in mid-2006. In November 2006, Whibley started sending in demos to their studio for recording ideas. The band would return to the studio to record a new album. During the production of the album, Whibley decided to take the band to a different and more "orchestrated" direction. Whibley did not want to produce the album in the first place, and admitted to "never looking forward to it", but since they were unable to find a producer, Whibley took the part of producing for himself. Although never intended to be a rock opera, the album was written with a unified concept holding many of the tracks together.

"After writing the songs, even if they were demos, I was going to show the others what I wrote and let them grow with the song" Whibley said. "Usually, the first things I come up with are terrible, so I continued writing and told myself that most of them would suck. So I showed everyone what I wrote and then I looked through them all and picked the best ones in the end." McCaslin mentioned the band's musical progression that they had been taking with their previous two albums and mentioned that the music got heavier. The band members have mentioned the more pop punk progression that they were going with on this album. McCaslin said that "we didn't seem like the same band we were five or six years ago, so we decided to ask ourselves why we were in a band in the first place." Jocz said "All of us knew what we wanted to achieve with this album, and what we wanted to do was a unified idea. Not necessarily a concept album, but something that's just one thing that is related and all of the songs fit in. And it's like a whole new way of looking at making a record, and I think this is the right way to do it. You should think it through."

Whibley said "With all of the ideas of where I wanted to take the music, I decided to make the most artistic punk rock record I could, but I didn't want to go overboard with it to the point where it's unlistenable. I wanted to push boundaries of what I wanted to do with what punk rock could mean, but keep things melodic at the same time." Deryck and McCaslin would often argue about the songs' sound and how the bass and guitar should progress through the songs. These arguments were mostly because Deryck wanted the songs to be "more powerful", while McCaslin wanted to have more variety in the sound.

"I had a demo form of the entire album with each song leading into the next sequence and that was how I could show everyone that I was done and all that I needed to do was go in and finish the album" Whibley said. Jocz had several drum kits put up for the recording of the album to help the feel of the songs. "There were times where I wanted to go to a really small kit with a different sound and different microphones, and then afterwards going back into a different kit" Whibley said. "We had these three different kits all set up in the studio so that Steve could play on one and then jump onto another one so the momentum was going".

Jocz and McCaslin finished their recording of the album very quickly, and it just left Deryck to record on keyboards, pianos and vocals. Whibley mentioned that the piano had an effect on his music, and he said that he heard the song in a different way, "even if I just played it on guitar. All of a sudden, I have a completely different vision of what I was playing.

Deryck would also buy several guitars for the album's recording to set "a different and unique style". Whibley said "Sometimes it takes a few different tries with different guitars, and if you really care about the record's attitude, then you'll go through those things to really try to find out what you're hearing in your head."

"Even though the writing and recording process was very fluid" Whibley said "We all decided it would be over when it would feel right." McCaslin said that "This album felt special to us, mostly because of the lyrical content. The music is great and everything, but the lyrics went a lot deeper than we ever went before." Jocz stated "This is the direction we should've gone after All Killer No Filler, but every band goes through that phase where they question their success, and we were going through that phase where we weren't sure of what we wanted to do, but now we think that we've found out what we wanted to do, and that was on the record." Deryck said "Nothing really went wrong in the recording process here, which is odd because normally everything goes wrong during the recording, and here it seemed to go very smooth. This was probably because we knew exactly what we wanted to do here."

The overall recording and production went from November 6, 2006 to March 14, 2007. It was the first new material to be released without former guitarist Dave Baksh.

Structure and lyrical themes[edit]

The title track is focused on a theme of "us against them", similar to their previous lyrics. Although "Underclass Hero" is written from a different angle, the song refers prominently to society and the struggle of "high-class versus the underclass" instead of "youth against adults" as in All Killer No Filler. The song also uses the more classic punk-rock themes of anti-establishment. "Walking Disaster" is a classic, upbeat pop-punk song, drawing similarities from "March of the Dogs" (another song on the album). According to Whibley, the song illustrates his tattered childhood and his reflections as an adult. The song, being somewhat chronological, opens with “Mom and Dad both in denial, an only child to take the blame”, a vision of Whibley’s past, damaged by his conflicting parents. "Walking Disaster" ends on an optimistic note, “I can’t wait to see you smile, wouldn’t miss it for the world”, expressing his maturation as an adult, in the light of being able to see things differently and ultimately, understanding his childhood. "Speak of the Devil" focuses on themes of Whibley's personal thoughts on religion and if heaven and hell really exist. "Dear Father" is another chronological song focusing on the relationship between a father and son. Deryck has mentioned this song being based on his relationship with his father, who he never met.

"Count Your Last Blessings" focuses on self-abuse, leading to ruined life and sadness. In an interview, Deryck said that this song was based on drug abuse that Deryck suffered in 2002. "Ma Poubelle" is a short joke track, which wasn't meant to mean anything special. "March of the Dogs" is based on the poor choices of the government and what it can lead to. "The Jester" is an anti-Bush screed that continues on what "March of the Dogs" established. "Pull the Curtain" is a song that touches on themes like waking up to the paranoia and robotic lives that we live in society. "With Me" and "Best of Me" are songs based on love and emotion. Deryck has admitted to these tracks being based on his marriage with Avril Lavigne. "King of Contradiction" is a song focusing on the relationship with the band's former manager. "Confusion and Frustration in Modern Times" describes the feeling of paranoia in regards to the post 9/11 world and the Bush presidency. "So Long Goodbye" is a closing track which focuses on the departure of two people. The lyrical themes in this song are based on the departure of Dave Baksh.

Musical style[edit]

Critics have consistently described Underclass Hero as a revival of Sum 41's previous pop punk style in All Killer No Filler as opposed to the heavy metal and punk rock sound found in Chuck.[1][2][3][4] Along with the pop punk style of the band's beginning years, the album has also brought in an array of different instruments. These instruments include pianos, as used in tracks like "Count Your Last Blessings" and "Pull the Curtain", strings, as used in "So Long Goodbye" and "Dear Father", and horns, as used in tracks like "King of Contradiction" and "Confusion and Frustration in Modern Times". There have also been different styles of instruments used in this album. Acoustic guitar has been used in tracks such as "So Long Goodbye", and different drum kits were used in several tracks like "Walking Disaster" and "Pull the Curtain". The album has also been described as being "somewhat radio-accessible" while being "creative and artistic".

Release[edit]

On April 16, 2007, Underclass Hero was announced for release. The next day, "March of the Dogs" was released as a promotional single.[5] On May 2, 2007, "Underclass Hero" was posted on the band's Myspace profile; the music video for it was posted online at the end of the month.[6][7] The album's artwork was posted online on June 8, 2007.[8] On July 9, 2007, "Walking Disaster" was posted on Myspace.[9] Underclass Hero was made available for streaming on July 17, 2007 through MTV's website, and released through Island on July 24.[5][10] On the same day, the band performed the album in its entirety, which was subsequently posted on their website.[11] In August, the band played two shows in Australia with Yellowcard and performed at a few dates on the Warped Tour, alongside a few US shows with Yellowcard, Monty Are I and Amber Pacific the following month.[12][13] On August 20, 2007, the music video for "Walking Disaster" premiered on MTV2's website.[14] In September and October 2007, the band went on a tour of the US with Schoolyard Heroes, which included an appearance at the X96 Big Ass Show radio festival.[15][16] In November 2007, the band announced that Whibley was suffering from a herniated disc, resulting in all of the remaining shows of the year to be cancelled.[17] In February and March 2008, the band toured the UK, which was followed by a stint in Canada; both were supported by Die Mannequin and Social Code.[18] They toured Australia in April 2008 with Pennywise, the Vandals and Bowling for Soup.[19]

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
SourceRating
Metacritic50/100[20]
Review scores
SourceRating
AbsolutePunk74%[21]
AllMusic[2]
BBCunfavourable[22]
Billboardfavorable[23]
Entertainment WeeklyB[24]
IGN7.0/10[25]
NME4/10[26]
Rolling Stone[27]
Sputnikmusic[28]
Robert Christgau(choice cut)[29]
Spin[30]

Critical reaction[edit]

Underclass Hero received praise for its songwriting and lyrical content, but received criticism for its similarities to Green Day's American Idiot and My Chemical Romance's The Black Parade.[2] On review aggregator website Metacritic, the album currently holds an average score of 50/100 based on 12 reviews, indicating “mixed or average reviews”. However, the album fared somewhat better with fans, earning a 7.1 user score, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.

The A.V. Club gave the album a positive review, calling it "the band's smartest and most mature sounding album yet." Billboard also reacted positively, saying that "its growth feels genuine and, unlike Sum 41's punk peers, its musical maturation doesn't come at the expense of that all-important snotty 'tude." On the other hand, BBC was less favorable, saying that it "has its merits", but calling it a "disappointing effort".

Sputnikmusic gave the album a 1 out of 5, saying that it "tries its best to be profound and musically challenging, however its only success is found, without exception, in the tracks which drop the pretense entirely and return to the formula which made the group popular to begin with." Mike D of Blogcritics stated that most of the album "sounds like someone else’s, not Sum 41′s. 'With Me' could easily be mistaken for Yellowcard and 'March of the Dogs' might as well be a Green Day song." However, he also added "There is one huge factor in all this that can turn the tables for this album: the lyrics. Underclass Hero is lyrically far better than anything Sum has ever done. Several times, I found myself not liking the songs as they first began, but liking them by the end." IGN gave the album a 7 out of 10, drawing comparisons to Green Day regarding the album’s sound, but said that it’s “not a bad album”. Contactmusic.com said that the album was full of "mixed results".

In 2018, Rock Sound ranked the album at #78 in their list of the Best 100 Pop Punk Albums.[31]

Commercial performance[edit]

In Canada, Underclass Hero debuted at number 1 on the Canadian Albums Chart, selling just over 9,000 copies in its first week.[32] In the United States, the album sold 44,601 copies in its first week and debuted at number 7 on the Billboard 200, making it their highest chart positioning to date in the U.S. As of April 2011, the album has sold 184,000 copies in the United States.[33] As of 2013, it has sold over 1 million copies worldwide.

The album was led by the singles "Underclass Hero" and Walking Disaster; both achieving moderate radio success in 2007. The third single, "With Me", wasn't released as a single until 2008, when it received substantial airplay as well as being featured in some TV show episodes. Additionally, "March of the Dogs" was released as an album preview in April 2007 before its release, because the album "wouldn't be out until the summer".

Political backlash[edit]

The track "March of the Dogs" faced political backlash due to its radical opposition to then-United States president George W. Bush. This led to Whibley facing possible deportation in 2007 by a House of Representatives minority leader.[34] However, this ultimately never came to pass.

Track listing[edit]

All songs written and composed by Deryck Whibley, except where noted.

Standard edition
No.TitleLength
1."Underclass Hero" (Whibley, Steve Jocz)3:14
2."Walking Disaster"4:46
3."Speak of the Devil"3:58
4."Dear Father"3:52
5."Count Your Last Blessings"3:03
6."Ma Poubelle" (Whibley, Jocz)0:55
7."March of the Dogs"3:09
8."The Jester"2:48
9."With Me"4:51
10."Pull the Curtain"4:18
11."King of Contradiction"1:40
12."Best of Me"4:25
13."Confusion and Frustration in Modern Times"3:46
14."So Long Goodbye"3:01
Total length:47:49
Hidden track (not available on all editions)
No.TitleLength
15."Look at Me" (starts at 2:00)4:03
Total length:51:52
iTunes bonus track
No.TitleLength
15."Take a Look at Yourself"3:24
Total length:51:13
International bonus track
No.TitleLength
15."No Apologies"2:58
Total length:50:47
Japanese bonus track
No.TitleLength
16."This Is Goodbye"2:26
Total length:53:13

Personnel[edit]

Sum 41

Additional musicians

  • Jamie Muhoberac – keyboards
  • Dan Chase – percussion
  • Michael Railton – piano

Production

  • Deryck Whibley – producer
  • Doug McKean – engineer
  • Keith Armstrong – assistant engineer
  • Adam Fuller – assistant engineer
  • Nathan Johns – assistant engineer
  • Nik Karpen – assistant engineer
  • Wesley Seidman – assistant engineer
  • David Campbell – string arrangement
  • Chris Lord-Algemixing
  • Ted Jensenmastering
  • Tara Podolsky – A&R
  • Rob "Just Fine" Stevenson – A&R
  • Jonathan Mannion – cover photo
  • Patrick Hegarty – cover design
  • Brian Lauzon – package design, photography
  • Matt Taylor – package design, photography

Release history[edit]

Region Date
Japan July 18, 2007
Canada/Europe July 23, 2007
United States July 24, 2007

Charts and certifications[edit]

References[edit]

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  2. ^ a b c https://www.allmusic.com/album/r1074163
  3. ^ "Sum 41 - Underclass Hero (album review 4) - Sputnikmusic". Retrieved September 9, 2015.
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  29. ^ Christgau, Robert (2008-02-01). "Mary J. Blige, Manu Chao and Jill Scott Make the Grade". MSN Music.
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External links[edit]