Here’s my big, dirty secret: I love pop punk. I grew up going to a lot of hardcore shows, and I loved bands from all the punk sub-genres, but the punk bands whose albums I spun over and over were, for the most part, pop punk bands. That remains true to this day. I know – there’s more than one kind of pop punk, and ‘pop punk’ means different things to different people. For brevity’s sake I’ll say this: when I talk about pop punk bands, I mean bands that are influenced by the Ramones, et. al., and usually have traces of ‘50s rock & roll and early ‘60s pop. I mean bands that are loud (punk), but have sing-along melodies and catchy hooks (pop). I mean bands that sound like they should’ve been part of the Lookout Records catalog, circa the mid-to-late ‘90s. Dee Dee help me, I love that sound. It makes me want to put on my tightest jeans, lace up my Chucks, and pogo while I sing along.
Okay, my love for pop punk isn’t really a secret. But saying “I’m a pop punk fan” sure feels like a weighty confession, because of the stigma attached to the term. Labeling yourself, or a band, pop punk, is like an invitation for the Tru Punx and Punk Bros (not all of whom are dudes – punk bro-ness is an affliction which can plague anyone of any gender) to come crawling out from the rocks they live under, shouting: “Poser! Loser! Wannabe!” There is so much stigma around pop punk that most bands won’t even touch the term. Call a band pop punk, and they’ll likely say: “Uh, no. We play melodic punk rock.” Oh, right.
I am here to tell you that Bad Cop/Bad Cop do not care about any such stigma. Though they don’t refer to themselves as pop punk, I can’t imagine they’d mind me giving them that label. They are too busy having fun and rocking out to worry about what they’re called. And, no matter what genre you classify it under, Not Sorry is one of the best albums of the year.
Track one, “Nightmare,” starts off with a three-part harmony, sung by bassist/vocalist Linh Le, and guitarists/vocalists Stacey Dee and Jennie Cotterill – “Hello, hello, hello.” Then Myra Gallarza charges in with the drums (a pounding rhythm and plenty of shimmering hi-hat) and the bass and guitars join in, and they sing: “Oh yeah, I’m a nightmare, and you’re a dream come true.” “Nightmare” sets the tone for the entire album: infectious as hell, super-tight musicianship, clever lyrics. It makes my pop punk heart go whoah-oh-oh! “Anti Love Song” starts off with freakin’ hand-claps and a bass line that’s so retro-‘50s it would sound right at home on the Grease soundtrack (think: “Summer Lovin’). Then it gets louder, and: “Well, I’m done writing love songs to anyone. Dear everyone, you won’t get no more from me.” Speaking as someone who falls in love fast and spends a lot of time writing about the people I’ve loved, this speaks to me. “Well, if you got a song from me, I’m taking it back, don’t you see. You never seemed to earn it, anyway. Those songs I wrote when I was choked up over you now make me throw up in my mouth, cos you’re just fantasy.” The best part comes in the last 25 seconds of the song: the hand-claps return, the back-up singers croon “doo-wop, doo-wop, doo-waahhh,” and then…”You never meant shit to me, hahahaha.”
One of the great things about Not Sorry is that, though I’d classify it as pop punk, the songs don’t all follow the same formula. ‘The songs all following the same formula’ is one of the main criticisms I’ve heard levied against pop punk: “It’s just 1-2-3-4, fuckin’ try something new already!” What, because brootal hardcore songs never get repetitive, bro? Ahem. Anyway, you cannot accuse Bad Cop/Bad Cop of not having a wide range of musical influences.”Here’s To You” has a hint of Celtic folk-punk, and I can imagine it as a long-lost Flogging Molly tune. Even the subject matter fits into that – “So here’s to you, my good friend. Let’s have a drink and celebrate the times that we had with everyone who went first.” It makes me tear up a little; I am a sucker for songs about friendship. “Cheers” sounds like it was influenced by Social Distortion, it has elements of that same diesel-chugging country punk, but it’s one thousand times better than Social D because Mike Ness isn’t involved. His voice bugs me. I like Linh, Stacey, and Jennie’s voices way more. “Joey Lawrence” has the best use of whoah-ohs in a pop punk song, ever, because not only is it hella pop punk, it’s the perfect way to reference Joey Lawrence! Whoa! “Sugarcane” is a badass song in support of a friend who’s in an abusive relationship. It urges the friend to get out of the relationship and have a better life: “Fuck what your mother taught you, you’re worth more than you could dream today.” The singer also threatens the abusive jerk with retribution: “I’d use a fuckin’ hammer on his face, yes I would do that for her. I would bite, kick, stab and brawl – then he’d be out of her life forever.” I am so here for the song and that sentiment. I am fiercely protective of my lady friends, and have several times come this close to putting on my shitkickers and kicking the shit out of boys who’ve treated them badly.
“I’m Alright” opens with a mellow ska beat, heavy low-end bass and that upstroke guitar, then speeds up and goes wild. It’s a song about falling apart, having a nervous breakdown, and trying to convince both yourself and your friends that you’re doing fine. “I’m not alright. I’m pretty sure that I’m alright.” Welcome to the story of my life. “Rip You to Shreds” once again nods toward the ’50s, with the swinging climb of the bass riff, and some finger-snaps thrown in for good measure, but it also has lyrics like: “I got no time for stupid motherfuckers.” To mention Grease again – the women of Bad Cop/Bad Cop sure as hell ain’t Sandy, they’re Rizzo. “Support,” the final track, is the most ‘hardcore’ sounding song on the album. It is loud, distorted, driving, with a guitar riff that harks back to the Bad Religion albums of the early-mid ‘90s. “Your silence is defense of the status quo,” they sing, and that is a statement I want printed on a t-shirt. With those songs, and the other four tracks on the album, Bad Cop/Bad Cop prove that they are excellent musicians and lyricists. They incorporate a diverse array of musical influences, yet never stray too far from their melodic punk rock roots. Their vocal stylings most often remind me of Kim Shattuck (of The Muffs), and a little bit of Gwen Stefani (in the early No Doubt days, before her shit went bananas). Not Sorry is packed with hooks and harmonies, and yes, it’s perfect to pogo to. If I’d heard this album fifteen years ago, tracks from it would have wound up on every mix tape I made for years. As it stands now, I’ve been playing it non-stop, and humming the songs even when I’m not listening to the album.
There’s one more song I want to mention. I saved it for last, because it’s the crux of the album, and it’s Bad Cop/Bad Cop’s anthem. “Like, Seriously?” is their way of embracing the things that might make people think less of them (they’re a girl band and a pop punk band). It’s also an ‘up yours’ to their detractors: “Go fuck yourself, you can’t fuck with me. We’re already part of punk history,” they shout. Even the title of the song is brilliant – they phrased it in the parlance of Valley girls and teen girls, who often get looked down on for being ‘dumb’ because of the way they speak. As if!
A couple years ago, I got into a discussion with a punk bro about Wisconsin punk bands past and present. In this context, the word discussion should have heavy air quotes around it, because it was really him trying to one-up me by mentioning more and more obscure bands. He was waiting for me to say: “I’ve never heard of them,” but it didn’t work. Every band he brought up, I’d come back with: “Oh yeah, didn’t some of those guys go on to form this other band?” Or: “Yeah, I saw them play a house show back in ’99.” He started looking sweaty and nauseous, uncomfortable because it was dawning on him that a girl knew more about punk than he did. Then, I brought up a band he hadn’t yet mentioned, and he said: “They don’t even count, because they were a pop punk band.” “They don’t count? Uh, they got bigger than any of the other bands we’ve talked about, and also put on better shows than most of ‘em.” “Yeah, but they were pop punk, which isn’t real punk. Pop punk is for fags, girls, and posers.” At that point, I walked into the kitchen to get myself another drink – not because he’d won, but because I was two seconds away from punching him and I didn’t think it would be cool of me to start a brawl in my best friend’s apartment.
Now that I’ve gotten into Bad Cop/Bad Cop, I’m sorta hoping I’ll run into that bro. I’ll say: “Yeah, pop punk is for fags and girls, and I’m a queer girl!” I’ll say: “Lick my filthy Chucks, dude, I am a poser and I don’t care!” I’ll make him listen to “Like, Seriously?” until his ears bleed, because the ladies of Bad Cop/Bad Cop don’t care about his boring opinions, either. “Clasp your hands, get on your knees,” they’ll sing to him. “You’re gonna worship our three part harmonies.”
Jessie Lynn McMains is a writer and zine-maker currently based in southeastern Wisconsin. She writes about nostalgia, desire, identity, music, wild girls, and her misspent youth.