Simple Plan – Harder Than It Looks (Album Review)

Simple Plan – Harder Than It Looks
Released: May 6, 2022

Lineup:

Pierre Bouvier // lead vocals
Chuck Comeau // drums
Sebastien Lefebvre // rhythm guitar
Jeff Stinco // lead guitar

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For twenty years now, Canadian pop punk outfit Simple Plan have been a fixture in what has shaped the very essence of pop punk music today. For many music fans, they were the gateway drug into the heavier styles. Honestly, I doubt I’d have the same taste in music today if it wasn’t for Simple Plan. So I do apologise if this review feels more like a love letter to the band that kicked it all off for me.

Their most recent albums, Get Your Heart On (2012) and Taking One For the Team (2016) were great records that threw major 2000s pop punk vibes and showed the world how consistent they are in everything they do. Upon first listen with the band’s sixth studio album, Harder Than It Looks though, it had that similar essence but it was a little underwhelming, and I was taken aback at how much this shows how much I’ve actually matured. As I grew up and uncovered other ways to cope with life outside of music, I have kinda slipped off the whole turning to music as my only escape.

However, give Harder Than It Looks another spin and it honestly feels like a trip back down memory lane and it’s sure to see unresolved feelings re-emerge from your teen angst days; this time with all the answers you didn’t have back then. The album’s opener ‘Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over)’ kicks off the journey back into yesteryear; back to a time where you recall feeling totally helpless and lost. From the extremely catchy melodies to lyrical themes of despair and hopelessness, it’s a style that Simple Plan have consistently perfected with each album over the last decade, to which their fans have embraced with open arms.

The pop punk collaboration that the scene has desired for so long, ‘Ruin My Life’ sees Pierre Bouvier share vocals alongside fellow Canadian and Sum 41 frontman Deryck Whibley for what is absolutely one of the most empowering songs of 2022. Kicking in with a sheer guitar riff that closely resonates with the classic Welcome To My Life, this track increases tempo into a soaring, anthem about overcoming adversity. It’s destined to become a cult classic, so can we just call it now as the best pop punk collab of the year?

Although it’s really no secret that Simple Plan are one of the very few bands who have found it so easy to connect with their fans, always being on the ball with songs that they know the fans will love. Not to mention, these guys will stop at nothing to get them involved. On Get Your Heart On, they brought fans into the studio to sing on This Song Saved My Life. While this probably wasn’t the case on Harder Than It Looks due to a global pandemic, the leading single ‘The Antidote’ sounds like an emo/punk singalong directed at their fanbase. It acts as a heartful gesture and gratitude for their dedicated legion of fans the world over. There are similar feelings aloft on ‘Million Pictures of You’ — c’mon now, how many of you reading this can confess their school books were covered in photos of the band and all over their room? This one is also an incredibly catchy, edgy throwback to ‘Jetlag’, ‘Promise’ and Pierre even throws in an “I’d do anything…” line. So wholesome!

Longtime SP fans will be all too familiar with the band’s 2008 self-titled LP. Harder Than It Looks marks a revisit to Simple Plan’s most experimental era, and they’ve somewhat improved on that record. The therapy-inducing ‘Anxiety’ carries with it a poppier beat, amongst autotuned vocals. A fine example of contemporary emo pop/rock featuring ultra-catchy hooks like “anxiety… anxiety…get away from me…” and references to imposter syndrome, this track in particular hits the spot emotionally and all of the feels.

Overall, this record will remind you why you came to Simple Plan as a teenager. But it’s not all emo sadness, of course. ‘Congratulations’ pays homage to their astounding ability to produce feelgood pop punk jams. The hooks are punchy and as iconic as much of their recent material from Taking One For The Team. In contrast though, ‘Iconic’ presents us with that experimental pop sound the guys are no strangers to — remember ‘Generation’? This electronic/pop dynamic seems to be one of the band’s most riskiest moves musically over the years. But in 2022, ‘Iconic’ mirrors a powerful emotionally-charged rock anthem that’s destined for the sports arena. It’s already been picked up in the US for the LCS Spring Finals (e-sports series).

Harder Than It Looks really tries its hardest to incorporate the band’s strengths, while also making an attempt to be their most diverse-sounding album, and they’ve succeeded. However, sometimes we just want to hear a staple early 2000s pop punk anthem that’ll delight us as much as their biggest hits have. Well, everyone that tunes in here is literally going to have the best f*cking day of their life with the literal ‘Best Day Of My Life’. Easily their heaviest yet, the melody here will throw back HUUUGE Still Not Getting Any energy, harking back to songs like ‘Thank You’. Love that line on the second verse though – “it’s time to stop judging by comparison”, and the pre-chorus reminding us that your happiness in this life begins and ends with you. No one else.

No doubt anyone listening to this is going to feel ALL of the emotions, and the two album closers will send you on that rollercoaster. While ‘Slow Motion’ celebrates elated feelings of happiness and joy through its soaring, hymn-like rocky chorus, ‘Two’ tranforms every sadness you’ve ever felt into a tsunami wave of overwhelming emotions. If you grew up as a child of divorce and/or split your life between two families, this’ll hit home HARD. This is definitely the song you wish you had as a confused 10-year-old watching your parents separate their lives. Listening to this (amongst everything else on the record) will give yourself a sense of closure on deeper issues. Confession: every time I listen to ‘Two’, I still get all weepy.

We haven’t even mentioned yet how this album also sticks to the band’s tongue-in-cheek album title scheme — yeah, I can hear you all snicker thinking about all the sexual innuendos that Harder Than It Looks brings. Simple Plan have remained consistent in their sound and image over the last twenty years. They’ve become a staple to the pop punk community, and have seemingly made the best fan-band connections ever. Even through all their experimental moves, Pierre, Chuck, Seb and Jeff have that unique musical ability to transform anything they touch into an infectious, bouncy and iconic Simple Plan melody.

As a diehard fan of pop punk, yeah, I froth all subgenres. However, there is no other band in existence that will send me on quite the emotional trip that Simple Plan have done here. Harder Than It Looks nails that emotional connection we yearn for when listening to music. Our favourite Canadian pop punkers have nailed this record once again by producing their most authentic selves in their 20-year tenure, and it’s sure to win over fans as much as their high school selves did.

Simple Plan – Harder Than It Looks tracklisting:

1. Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over)
2. Ruin My Life (feat. Deryck Whibley)
3. The Antidote
4. Million Pictures Of You
5. Anxiety
6. Congratulations
7. Iconic
8. Best Day of My Life
9. Slow Motion
10. Two

Rating: 9/10
Harder Than It Looks is out Friday 6th May. Pre-save here
Review by Tamara May @citylightstam

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About Tamara May (1085 Articles)
Wall of Sound's Head of Album Reviews. Weekend Content. Pop Punk Enthusiast.