For the better part of 25 years Good Riddance have cranked out fast paced, melodic hardcore that raised the bar for the entire genre. With a sound defined by Luke Pabich’s riffs that meticulously entwine power, speed, and melody alongside the weighty, typically political lyrics of Russ Rankin delivered in his own distinct snarl that band have operated largely in two modes. Those modes are, most often, piledriving West Coast hardcore or the hyperspeed melodic punk that has served as the hallmark of the Fat Wreck Chords sound for years. That they operate almost entirely within these parameters isn’t a detriment. Rather, it is a testament to the manner in which this band has perfected their craft.
Over the course of their nine album discography the band have changed their sound and their targets very little. That Thoughts and Prayers begins with a quote from the film Wall Street that, depending upon your proclivity for believing in mass media’s predictive powers, was either prophetic or merely coincidental should serve as no surprise. The punchline, of course, is “Now you’re not naive enough to think we’re living in a democracy, are you, buddy?” If you didn’t already have an idea of what this latest offering from Santa Cruz’s finest punk rock politicos was going to look like, well, there you go.
From that point it’s off to the races for a mix of sharp riffs, galloping basslines, and piston-driven drums providing the backdrop for Rankin’s missives and ponderings. “Edmund Pettis Bridge”, itself one of the enduring symbols of the ongoing struggle for civil rights in the United States, serves as the thesis statement for the entire album both musically and lyrically. “Don’t Have the Time” is a quintessential slice of Good Riddance deploying melody as a way to mainline some moral lessons for listeners. That is what makes the band unique, after all, in that their entire career has been based off of tracks that oscillate between their style of hardcore and moments of ear-catching melody that makes societal observations singalong worthy.
Part of the charm of the band through the years, though, has also been in the way that Rankin will often turn the lens inward and examine some of the struggles that we as humans experience in our day-to-day lives. “Wish You Well”, serving as a lament about severed relationships, is just one of those songs and the band complies with this by presenting arguably the most melodically and musically complex song on the album. “No Safe Place” is another track that forces us to confront certain elements of our collective world while giving us a break from the relentlessness with its half-time, by the band’s standard, riffs and breakdowns.
One of the oldest tools the band has in their shed is the use of dynamics and key changes to create a sense of variety in their songs. “No King But Caesar” and “Requisite Catastrophes” play on this extremely well. The former is another political anthem for these times while the latter is an open question about how we choose to live our lives. As the album’s closing argument it marvels at our own acceptance of what may well be the exceptions we make to manifest something that feels like a more passable daily life.
This might be the most complete album the band have put together in their entire career and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Good Riddance are definitely one of those bands, alongside Propagandhi and Bad Religion, who would have been on a list of “most likely” to contribute something to our post-turnip in office world. With Thoughts and Prayers the band doesn’t disappoint and gives us something to funnel some of our outrage, confusion, and despondency into. What we choose to do with that energy is up to us and that choice might be more important than it ever has been before.
Thoughts and Prayers is out now via Fat Wreck Records, and is available for purchase on the band’s Bandcamp page.