Not many punk bands would consider releasing concept albums (Green Day’s American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown in fact are the only ones that come to mind) but the band Smoking Popes have figured out a way to make it work. They have used a concept that only Smoking Popes could have pulled off, the story of an American high school teenager and his feelings on the chaos and confusion that is….well…the life of an American high school teenager.
This Is Only a Test, Smoking Pope’s second studio album since reuniting and the follow up to 2008s Stay Down, gets off to a good start with “Wish We Were,” which uses a theme all too familiar to high school teenage boys, unrequited love. It slows down a bit for the piano-introduced number “College” a first-person perspective of a boy that sees no future in becoming a slave to the man. It picks up immediately after with “Punk Band” another first-person perspective song of the boy deciding what he wants to do with his life, namely “living in a van” and “sleeping on the floor.” The rest of the album tells the rest of the story such as the boy trying out for, making, and ultimately regretting, the school football team and his continuing search for love.
Musically, the album, quite simply, sounds like a Smoking Popes album. Much like Stay Down before it, This Is Only a Test picks up where 1997s Destination Failure left off, while still sounding new and fresh at the same time. They even experiment a little bit with the electronically-laced Excuse Me, Coach.
Overall, I really like this album. I think the Pope’s have progressed quite nicely over the years. They have taken what they have done really well over the past 20 years, well-crafted, melodic, pop-punk songs and taken them to the next level.
My personal favorites on the album are “Wish We Were” “This Is Only a Test” “College” “Punk Band” “Diary of a Teen Tragedy” and “Letter to Emily.”