With more than 15 plus years and a treasure trove of material under their belt, New Jersey’s finest punk rockers return with The Gold Record. And while the album bears a distinctly glossy sheen, the songs are still the very best in sing-a-longs, anthems, and the kind of awe-inspiring fun and energy that has made the Souls one of the premier acts born and bred from Jersey’s long heralded lineage. The Gold Record continues where Anchors Aweigh left off- straight from the cuff of blue-collar friendships, long road struggles and the kinds of friendships and camaraderie found in getting your boots dirty when it counts the most.
Over the last few albums, the Bouncing Souls’ songwriting has seen a tremendous improvement. Looking back at the material on Maniacal Laughter, their self-titled release, or back to The Good, The Bad…, it was clear that while they knew how to put a lot of energy into the music, the songs were limited to oi-influenced street punk (not that there should be any negative connotations with that). However, from How I Spent My Summer Vacationonwards, it was clear that the band made a conscious effort to expand into other more rock-oriented areas. The Gold Record is this growth finding complete resolution.
“The Gold Song” kicks proceedings off with the sort of energy one would expect from a Souls album; soaring guitars, great melodic vocals, and hard-hitting percussions, and it’s bound to jumpstart any pit in need of a boost. They throw in a splendid, stripped-down cover of Avoid One Thing’s “Lean on Sheena” (sans electronic touches found on AOT’s original), injecting it with just a bit of pace. Things get better with the romanticized ode “So Jersey” (an amorous toast to a fine city indeed), “Sounds of the City,” the politically charged, machine-gun like “Letters From Iraq,” and the group vocalizing on “The New Thing” (with hand claps!)— peaking in the album’s second cover with The Kinks’ “Better Things.” It is in this song that perhaps, the very things that are great about this band come through clear as day: energetic, fun, and filled with the kind of optimism described best as experiencing life’s cards one hand at a time. The album’s one rather lacking effort comes with the closer, the rather grand “For All the Unheard.” Clocking in close to a meaty 7-minutes, it drags out a fine sounding guitar-driven sing-a-long tune a little too long. A small blemish.
The songwriting has been refined, the songs are better, and the lyrics continue to be poignant while never being preachy or condescending. While the short, dirty punk numbers may be gone (except in a live setting of course), the Bouncing Souls continue to write music that is both heartfelt and relevant. Intention is never easily revealed from a listener’s standpoint, but one thing about the Bouncing Souls is that they’ve always sounded genuine. They’re like a great group of guys who write songs about things you want to sing about; and their latest slab of tunes is simply put, pure gold.