13 Voices just isn’t very good.
Since Sum 41 made their debut a decade and a half ago, they’ve built up a loyal fan base—even if those fans have grown up and now view the band as pure nostalgia syrup for a lousy day. Even so, it’s a safe bet that everyone who ever enjoyed a Sum 41 album was pulling for frontman Deryck Whibley when his personal demons caught up to him a few years back. 13 Voices acts as a comeback record not just for Sum 41, but for Whibley himself as it addresses those aforementioned demons with hope and despair both wrestling for attention. Unfortunately, despite Whibley’s turnaround and his decision to write songs about his most honest self, 13 Voices just isn’t very good.
Sum 41 has tried everything. Their pop-punk masterstroke, Half Hour of Power, and that EP’s popular but boring brother (and their breakout hit), All Killer, No Filler, allowed them to share the stage with massive pop punk acts of the early 2000s. Does This Look Infected? was a bit darker and dared to toy with the band’s love for metal. And Chuck was a metal record through and through, with a pop chorus scattered here and there. (Let’s not even mention Underclass Hero and Screaming Bloody Murder). 13 Voices attempts to blend all of their early music into one cohesive whole, but it can’t quite capture the magic those albums hold. Sure, it’s heavy, moderately fast, a bit catchy, but the only thing that’s truly worthwhile about this thing is that Whibley lived through a personal hell to make it, and it’s wonderful that he was able to recover in order to do so.
Overproduction is the primary culprit of 13 Voices’ missteps. The guitars are layered ad infinitum, but they all play the same notes, save for the occasional (albeit wicked) shredding from Dave “Brownsound” Baksh. Every snare drum hit is identical. All the vocal layers just indicate where the hooks should be. And, overall, the album just doesn’t sound like it came from a band. Many people know that the instruments are recorded independently from one another on most albums, but the key to production is to create the illusion that the band is actually playing together. Not so here. 13 Voices took a while to get made and it shows. The programmed string arrangements on the opening track, “A Murder of Crows,” is a tragic precursor to that fact.
13 Voices is not without its winners. Lead single “Fake My Own Death” is a tremendous amalgam of punk and metal and modern rock that works on nearly every level. “Goddamn I’m Dead Again” is a riff-heavy rocker that is a solid reminder of the band Sum 41 can be when they’re firing on all cylinders—it also brings a gnarly guitar solo that any shred fan will be giddy about. Unfortunately, the remainder of the album is less than memorable.
Undoubtedly, there’s something to be said about a musician overcoming his demons to create something personal and meaningful in order to make sense of their situation. And for that, Whibley should truly be applauded. It’s great to see him back and to see Sum 41 pop up in newsfeeds and concert promotions. But if you do venture out to a Sum 41 show, there’s a good chance you’ll be aching to hear the stuff they made 15 years ago rather than anything from 13 Voices.