Sore Subject

Sum 41's maturation meets with mixed results on its latest, Does This Look Infected?

Sum 41, with Authority Zero, the Starting Line, and No Use for a Name Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Avenue 7:30 p.m. Sunday, February 15, $17.50, 216-241-5555.
Infected and rejected: Sum 41's latest fails to impress.
Infected and rejected: Sum 41's latest fails to impress.

"If you get any four guys into a room, it doesn't matter if they do market research or accounting or whatever -- they fuck around all the time," contends Sum 41 drummer Steve Jocz (pronounce it yatch). "That's what guys do. That's what we do, and people tape it and put it on TV. And in addition to that, we play music."

Yeah, maybe so, but there's a good reason Jocz mentions music last: It's Sum 41's shitfaced shenanigans that earn the band most of its headlines these days. A brief rundown of the group's antics of the past year includes but isn't limited to:

-- pooping in a bag and throwing the contents at a randomly chosen hotel-room door;

-- attacking passersby with a fire extinguisher;

-- sticking one's hands into a toilet bowl full of urine and subsequently high-fiving people;

-- encountering thong-clad, passed-out bandmates and attempting to squirt aftershave up their bungholes;

-- rearranging a college marquee announcing the MTV Campus Invasion Tour so it reads "The Anal Invasion";

-- dropping three vials of acid and spending hours staring in mortal terror at a Scooby-Doo poster;

-- discussing a variety of sexual antics in lurid detail with horndog journalists;

-- beginning a debauched tour story with "That's the night I puked on Nikka Costa."

Ready for the biggest laugh-getter of them all? Now this bunch wants you to take them more seriously.

"I think people confuse the personality of the band members with the actual songs," Jocz explains. "You see us in interviews, and you see us just goof around all the time. But then the songs -- especially on this album -- have more substance. They mean something."

Shut up, Steve. You're ruining this.

At its zenith, Sum 41 provides high-octane party rock for the sort of parents-flew-off-to-Maui high school party that results in senseless violence, wanton vandalism, pot busts, kegstand-related neck injuries, and teenage pregnancy. "Fat Lip," a majestic three-minute radio epic with terrible white-rap verses and a gloriously anthemic "casualty of society" chorus, made these four yahoos superstars. Unless you adore this sort of thing, it's absolutely indistinguishable from Blink-182 and 10,000 other like-minded bands scheming to deflower your daughter.

"Fat Lip" spearheaded Sum 41's debut full-length CD, All Killer No Filler, in its rise to TRL superiority. But a whole year and a half has passed, which makes our heroes about Strom Thurmond's age in MTV Darling years. Fortunately, Sum 41's got a new album out, the promisingly titled Does This Look Infected? Unfortunately, it is absolutely no fun at all.

"Most people actually like this album better," Jocz lies. "The songs are better. They're just put together better. We've had more experience, so we can craft songs that have more depth to them -- better parts, we play instruments better, blah blah blah blah blah."

He's wrong about everything except the "blah blah blah blah blah." Infected injects the Sum 41 party-punk formula with a much-ballyhooed shot of classic metal, to goat-blowing effect. The boys' tie themselves into spiky-haired pretzels attempting to flaunt their speed-metal chops. Meanwhile, pint-sized prodigy frontman Deryck Whibley cranks up the lyrical angst, rhyming "jaded," "frustrated," and "complicated," etc.

Such melodrama can work, in small doses: "The Hell Song" attempts to console an HIV-diagnosed friend before admitting it really can't ("I feel so useless in all this"). But stretched across an entire album, it's a real turd in the punchbowl from a band more accustomed to literally dropping turds in the punchbowl.

Far more enjoyable than Infected is its bonus DVD, in which our heroes videotape themselves engaging in an assortment of stupid human tricks. Has this golden era passed? Steve's not even taking drugs anymore!

"At least for now," Jocz admits. "And I haven't been drinking at all on this tour. I don't exactly have an addictive personality. I just like the idea of going out and having fun. We never did this every day -- more often than most people, but not as often as someone who's developing this big problem.

"We'd never do heroin," he adds. "That's a drug that destroys bands, destroys your life, whereas other ones just enhance the party. But especially with this tour, I'm trying to just get healthy, working out every day."

Arrgh. What Jocz and his brethren fail to understand is that Sum 41 cannot "mature." It violates all physical and spiritual laws.

Despondent, we attempt to goad Jocz into boorish behavior by reminding him of Sum 41's splendid feud with SR-71, a vastly inferior pop-punk outfit that reportedly instigated a brawl with Jocz and company a few years back. Despite a size disadvantage ("We're probably the smallest band in rock and roll," Jocz admits), Sum 41 has undoubtedly won the war for cultural relevancy.

"I'm glad that guy [SR-71 frontman Mitch Allan] has heard from so many people that he's a fucking freak, completely controlling the band," Jocz says. "A total asshole. It couldn't have happened to a better person, this absolute failure. If he was a really nice guy, it'd be a different story, but I've heard from several people, and I know for a fact that he's an asshole."

That's more like it. Or it was. Sum 41 has failed to whip up a replacement adversary. "Sure, we'd love to have an arch-nemesis, but right now everyone's just so damn nice," Jocz says. "It's a little annoying, you know?"

We know. Talk trash about some other band! Abuse drugs! Drink to stupefaction! Demean women! Fling poo! If necessary, fashion yourselves WWTLD bracelets -- What Would Tommy Lee Do?

"A lot of Mötley Crüe had to do with the fact that that was them -- that's all they did was party," Jocz muses. "I think there's more to us than just a band that goes out and parties all the time."



Yeah, you'd better hope, Stevo. Will someone please pass the Courvoisier?

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