Spanning 17 years and just as many releases, the Punk Goes… brand has now survived the alternative scene longer than most of the bands lucky enough to appear on the forever popular compilation series from Fearless Records. Punk Goes Pop Vol. 7, the first release from the series in nearly three years, reaffirms the selling power of great cover songs with an eclectic collection of material from bands primed for Warped Tour’s main stage. Not everything works as well as you might expect, but the good vastly outweighs the bad.
With streaming being the primary way people consume music these days, it seems foolish to review a compilation as if it were intended to be enjoyed from front to back. Now more than ever people are going to pick and choose the songs they listen to, adding the best to playlists and forgetting the rest. So, instead of writing about the release as a whole I’ve chosen to write brief, individual reviews of each track:
01. State Champs – “Stitches” (originally by Shawn Mendes)
02. Dance Gavin Dance – “That’s What I Like” (originally by Bruno Mars)
Some covers have to grow on you. This isn’t due to the fact they are initially bad, but rather that they separate themselves so far from the original material that your ears and brain need a little time to acclimate. This is the case with Dance Gavin Dance and Bruno Mars’ recent radio favorite, “That’s What I Like”. The California-based, post-hardcore act have torn the original track to pieces and built it once more in their own image. It’s jarring at first, but after a few listens, you’ll be bopping around as if you never knew the song any other way.
03. New Years Day – “Gangsta” (originally by Kehlani)
A bold choice from New Years Day, this cover of “Gangsta” is passable without being all that memorable. The band makes the song work for their continuing evolution into full blown arena rock band, but the catchiness of the original is lost along the way.
04. The Amity Affliction – “Can’t Feel My Face” (originally by The Weeknd)
If there is such a thing as a typical Punk Goes… entry, this cover from The Amity Affliction would be it. A massive pop hit turns into a Warped Tour ready mosh fest complete with screams and breakdowns. Predictable? Absolutely. But why fix what isn’t broken? This formula works like gangbusters, and I’m sure in the months to come, it will inspire numerous unsigned acts to attempt viral fame with a similar cover of their own.
05. Andy Black (feat. Juliet Simms) – “When We Were Young” (originally by Adele)
Beautiful. It’s interesting to hear such a deeply personal ballad transformed into a duet, but the combination of Black’s deep voice and Simms’ signature wail works as well as their real-life chemistry. That said, it would be nice to hear how each tackled the song individually, even if that meant one version became a bonus track. With the right songs, Black and Simms could follow the path John Travolta and Olivia Newton John did in the wake of their Grease success by releasing complete records made together. I’m not saying it SHOULD happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if it did.
06. Grayscale – “Love Yourself” (originally by Justin Bieber)
Pennsylvania’s Grayscale is about to be a band on the tip of everyone’s tongue, and that success will be owed largely to this cover of what is arguably one of Justin Bieber’s most popular songs. In fact, the band’s take on “Love Yourself” is without question one of the best recordings ever produced by the Punk Goes… series. It’s probably in the top three, but definitely top five, and if there is any kind of justice in this chaotic universe, the release of this cover will catapult the group into the music stratosphere. I would pay the full album price just to have this song with me wherever I go, and I sincerely hope the group adds the song to their live sets as they continue supporting their recently released album, Adornment, on the road this fall.
07. Capsize – “Fake Love” (originally by Drake)
This “Fake Love” cover is all the reasoning anyone at Fearless Records needs to commission Punk Goes Crunk 2 for a mid-2018 release. Capsize is the furthest thing from a band one might expect to take a smooth single from someone like Drake and make it their own, but the band has done the best rap-oriented cover since The Devil Wears Prada tackled The Big Tymers “Still Fly” way back in 2008. If you ever felt ashamed of your adoration for Drake, this cover should help make it cool for you to be yourself more often.
08. Boston Manor – “Heathens” (originally by Twenty One Pilots)
Boston Manor is a great band, but this cover lacks the originality and surprise one would expect the group to deliver. This may be due, at least in part, to the fact “Heathens” has been an inescapable hit for the over a year at this point. The cover, while well done, does not distance itself enough for the original recording to make the song feel new once more. I fear our collective exhaustion from overexposure to Twenty One Pilots will make people pass this track before it’s even halfway complete, but you would have to be an absolute fool to sleep on the band!
09. Eat Your Heart Out – “Shape Of You” (originally by Ed Sheeran)
Why isn’t Eat Your Heart Out one of the biggest band in alternative music right now? Is it because they’re from Australia and touring stateside enough to win over the masses is simply not in the cards yet? I’m hoping this is the case because any other excuse would only show how horrible our collective music tastes really are. This band deserves to be massive, and this cover does for an overplayed song what the “Heathens” cover it follows does not. You might hate Ed Sheeran, but even the biggest radio naysayers will have a hard time denying this cut.
10. The Plot In You – “Let It Go” (originally by James Bay)
For the record, this is not the song from the popular Disney film Frozen. As cool as it may have been to hear The Plot In You bring their heavier sensibilities to that family favorite, the band have delivered something far more compelling with this ballad of James Bay’s tale of lovers torn asunder. Few heavier bands have done more to evolve their sound and appeal in recent years than TPIY, and that growth continues to impress with this cover. If the band ever wants to leave mosh pits behind forever, there will be a place for them in mainstream soft rock. I don’t know that they’d want it, but this cover more than proves they could earn it.
11. Ice Nine Kills – “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever” (originally by Zayn & Taylor Swift)
A bit of a snooze. Ice Nine Kills has done a great job championing a unique take on the post-hardcore world while labels and influencers in the industry continued to overlook the band’s talents, but this cover of the best thing the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise produced is entirely underwhelming. For a band capable of orchestrating elaborate songs that make you rethink your stance on heavy music, this cover feels like an afterthought. Ice Nine Kills could construct this cover in their sleep, and the recognition the group could easily have pushed this further than they did makes the resulting product, though perfectly adequate, a disappointment.
12. Seaway – “Closer” (originally by The Chainsmokers feat. Halsey)
If the pop punk craze is still in full effect, then why hasn’t Seaway been elevated to the heights of popularity that bands like The Wonder Years have experienced in recent years? Everything about this band argues for them to be big, including this fantastic rendition of 2016’s biggest song, yet they remain largely in the shadows. What’s cool is that the band doesn’t seem to mind their position, and even being robbed more than five times while on tour in recent years has not kept them from pressing onward. If you’re in need of something to believe in, then I suggest you commit yourself to the church of Seaway. We’ll welcome you with open arms.
13. Too Close To Touch – “In The Name Of Love” (originally by Martin Garrix & Bebe Rexha)
It is safe to assume that every Punk Goes Pop release will produce at least one great cover that people will talk about for months and years to come, but two on a single compilation is far more rare. As far as I’m concerned, Too Close To Touch frontman Keaton Pierce delivers one of the best vocal performances of the year with this cover of “In The Name of Love.” It would be hard for anyone to compete with the soaring vocals of Bebe Rexha, but Pierce improves upon her already powerful performance with a force no one can deny. It’s fitting that this song closes the record because any track, aside from maybe the Grayscale contribution, would sound worse simply for having to follow such a great cover. Buy this song. Even if you use Spotify to stream 99.9% of your music, this track is worth your money.