After millions got to know The Young and the Hopeless, Good Charlotte is back with a remarkably self-assured and provocative new collection, dubbed The Chronicles of Life and Death. The album - "the Most Anticipated CD of 2004," according to Alternative Press - sees the band growing by remarkable leaps and bounds, offering an increasingly multifaceted musical palette that evinces Joel and Benji Madden's mounting songwriting muscle. As ever, the Maddens open their heads and hearts to confront personal demons and private darkness with striking candor. Songs such as "Predictable" and "The World Is Black" are fuelled by Joel's resolute drive to form a frank and thoughtful lyrical dialogue with his audience, keeping the faith with a loyal fan following that expects no less. With The Chronicles of Life and Death, Good Charlotte exhibit escalating artistic ambition without sacrificing the idiosyncratic spirit, style, and sincerity that made them one of today's most important bands.
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"As much growth as there was from our first record to our second record," singer Joel Madden says, "there's so much more on this one. We've become comfortable in our own skin. We have nothing to prove. Once we realized that, it opened a lot of creative doors for us to go other places with our music."
The Waldorf, Maryland-based group formed in 1996, and released their self-titled debut three years later. Non-stop touring saw Good Charlotte refining their sound and vision, developing an ardent fan base stirred by the band's powerful energy and straight-up directness.
The follow up to their debut, The Young and the Hopeless, was released in October 2002. With irresistible anthems like, well, "The Anthem," the album was chock full of raw and thought-provoking songs touching on a wide range of easily relatable topics - family, powerlessness, ubiquitous celebrity, and most significantly, suicide.
Driven by four singles - including "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," "Boys and Girls," and the unforgettable "Hold On" - The Young and the Hopeless scored 3x-platinum certification from the RIAA, landing the band on Saturday Night Live, the covers of Rolling Stone and Alternative Press, a two page feature in the New York Times and spots on CNN and The Today Show. Good Charlotte were also hugely popular at MTV, where the Madden Brothers once served as hosts All Things Rock. Their video clips were chart-topping favorites on both MTV and MTV2, with "The Anthem" going on to receive 2003's MTV "Viewers Choice" Video Music Award.
With The Young and the Hopeless, Good Charlotte accomplished something far more lasting than mere sales success - they moved and inspired a generation of kids left behind by much of today's popular culture. The fans knew instinctively that no matter how much fame and fortune came their way, the Brothers Madden gave a damn. In Good Charlotte, the fans had a band that they could believe in, a band that warranted their allegiance, a band that would always be honest and true and committed to the ideals that brought them into the spotlight in the first place. That, of course, had been Joel and Benji's dream from Day One - whatever else, Good Charlotte had to be a band that mattered.
With new fans joining the family with each passing day, the inveterate road warriors made a point of touring relentlessly, blowing up stages around the world for a marathon 20 months. Good Charlotte also took the opportunity to engage in a variety of extracurricular activities, including contributed guest vocals to records by Mest and N.E.R.D, continuing their Level 27 and Made clothing labels and launching a toy line. In May 2004, the Maddens launched their own DC Flag Records label, releasing albums by Lola Ray and Hazen Street.
"Our lives have all changed over the last four or five years," Madden says of Good Charlotte's brilliant career thus far. "We've all grown up a lot. It's been an amazing learning experience. And as a band, we're so much closer than ever before."
When the time came to follow up The Young and the Hopeless, Good Charlotte wanted to capture that interpersonal bond and fertile vein of newly accrued knowledge. Their first step was to again enlist the services of producer Eric Valentine, the man behind the board for their previous collection.
The band spent March through August 2004 at Valentine's Barefoot Studios in Los Angeles, laying down almost 30 songs. Having spent nearly two straight years on the road, Good Charlotte entered the studio playing with unprecedented unity and power which included long-time drummer Chris Wilson as an official member of the group. The band knew that one of their goals was to take that heat and incorporate it into a more complex set of songs.
"You get to know yourself on the road," Madden says, "and you know what you're going to be bored playing. We went in thinking, 'Okay, we're going to be playing these songs for the next two years, let's make them as challenging as possible.'"
With that in mind, Good Charlotte was determined to the sonic envelope, veering away from their hook-injected punk to take an edgier, more eclectic approach. Having long been inspired by a wide range of musical heroes - from such like-minded artists as the Smiths and the Cure to modern outfits like British power-prog trio, Muse - tracks such as "Predictable" see the band weaving intricate new textures into their trademark aggro-pop blend of hi-energy hooks and sing-along harmonies.
"This is definitely a rock record," Madden says. "The songwriting is very different from anything we've done before. It's much darker; there are a lot of mid-tempo songs. There's a lot of interesting guitars and keyboards and string sections, really dramatic stuff. It really doesn't sound like 'The Young and the Hopeless,' which is really cool, because it's important to do something different with each record."
The elaborate musical scale reflects and compliments the breadth of lyrical mediations that permeate the collection. Tracks like "World Is Black" and "We Believe" resonate with a poignancy and turbulence fuelled by the Maddens' feelings about themselves and the world around them.
"There's a lot of inner struggle going on in these songs," Madden says. "Instead of 'me against the world,' there's a lot more 'me against myself.' This record is basically about us turning around and facing ourselves. Before, I think we used music to run from things, but we've learned that things just get worse if you let them go. This record is about really confronting who we are and everything that's inside of us."
With The Chronicles of Life and Death, Good Charlotte have indeed crafted something special - an impressively emotional and creative work that affirms the band's intelligence, integrity, and ingenuity while also furthering their unique connection with their steadfast following.
"I've always looked at Outkast as a group that I wanted to model Good Charlotte after," Madden says. "They're comfortable being themselves and they've never been afraid to take their music wherever they want to go. People are always lumping us in with the whole pop-punk thing. Well, if we're going to be a pop-punk band, then I want us to be the Outkast of pop-punk.
"The fact is, we're so happy with where we're at," he concludes. "We can take Good Charlotte wherever we want to go and I'm comfortable that our fans are going to grow with us. As long as we're being honest - that's all our fans want, and we're definitely going to continue doing that. Just being ourselves, being honest, doing what we do.
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