The new Bouncing Souls album is reviewed by

Some bands change with every release, tempting old fans to throw up their hands in confused exasperation at the arrival of every new sound. Others find their groove and ride in it, making critics and picky listeners murmur about the problems of stagnation. On Anchors Aweigh, the Bouncing Souls' sixth studio full-length, the band continues to thread the needle and deliver a record that avoids either extreme.

Instead of changing in their formula for another one every time out, the Souls have simply improved with each record. While it's not the stuff of Bowie- or Clash-esque radical development, it's enough to show that the Souls aren't content to sit back and fester in their sound, but rather put in the continued effort to make it stronger. Stronger Anchors Aweigh is, too: It takes the stunning pop-punk power of 2001's Hopeless Romantic (Epitaph) and ratchets up its poise, grace and overall songwriting abilities.

While punk rock chases one fad after another, the Souls' idiosyncratic style remains constant. While the band features the same melodic sense that makes it appeal to fans of everyone from Buzzcocks to Blink, it's got the anthemic arena chants learned from classic oi! and a dirty New York edge that separates it from many of its left-coast cousins. "Sing Along Forever," a rock'n'roll love song filled with buzzing guitars and vocal tracks that merge the soaring chants of Sham 69 with sing-song pop melodies, gives listeners a reason to sing. With chiming guitar melodies that play on everything from Face to Face to the Souls' own considerable catalog, the title track breaks into semiheady tunes about soul-searching and maturity. Of course, there's the band's brand of hopeless pop-punk romanticism, be it in the lamenting "The Day I Turned My Back on You" or in the ultra-catchy "New Day," which mixes chiming new-era Gadjits riffs with hooks as big as the Souls' hearts to make listeners puzzle over just why this stuff isn't getting on the radio.

Is growing up changing? You bet it is. Does it mean abandoning your earlier self? Nope. The Souls know both, and its mature (dare anyone say adult in context of pop punk?) latest phase shows that, for some, growing up and staying punk can actually mean getting better. The Souls' lesson is one many a jaded scenester and young, close-minded nipper alike would be well-served to heed.

- Matt Schild
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