My first real exposure to music outside of my parents’ CD collection was listening to Radio Disney in the mid-to-late 2000s. Specifically, it was a song called “1985” by Bowling for Soup, and I loved it so much I was willing to listen for hours on end to Miley Cyrus, The Jonas Brothers, and all the other teen-pop tripe so reviled by young boys at the time, just to hear that song the two or three times a day they played it. The practical upshot of this was that my musical taste wound up skewed heavily towards the sugary, hyper-melodic sound of the mid-aughts pop punk and pop rock that Radio Disney had in heavy rotation around that time. Even though my taste had shifted away from it by the time I entered my teens, that sort of music still incites in me a very deep-rooted, almost instinctual sense of…ugh, I suppose the only word for it is nostalgia.
So what does any of this have to do with the new Death by Unga Bunga album? Well, the Norwegian power pop quintet’s fifth album sounds like it was engineered in a laboratory to emphatically hit on every single musical thing I ever liked as a kid. The infectious choruses, the blaring power chords and twisty, KISS-lite guitar leads, the multi-tracked, scratchy-but-youthful vocals…every bit of So Far So Good So Cool takes me right back to playing with LEGOs in my room and running around the yard shooting my friends with water guns.
The album kicks off with “Haunt Me,” an immediate highlight fueled by chunky power chords and a soaring chorus that’s all but guaranteed to lodge itself in your head and stay there. “Soldier” continues the first track’s momentum, featuring some slightly flashier guitar fills and crisper drumwork. The rest of the album is pretty much more of the same, in the best way possible, consisting of catchy-as-the-flu melodies, 4/4 beats of varying tempos, and guitar/synth tones as loud and crunchy as they are sugary-sweet. Not that there isn’t some variety – “So Cool” features some new wave-inflected keyboards reminiscent of Heartbeat City-era Cars, and “Turn My Brain Off” is straightforward Blink-182-style pop punk, but Death by Unga Bunga are clearly playing to their strengths here, and doing it with so much precision and flair that you’ll hardly even notice that it’s a little derivative and basic.
Of course, So Far So Good So Cool isn’t entirely without fault, even from my biased perspective. The drums can get a bit drowned out by the guitar at times, and the lyrics are decent but (perhaps fittingly) rather lacking in depth, dealing mostly in tales of adolescent romance and heartbreak. The album also starts to run out of steam towards the end. Token acoustic number “I’m No Provider” is pleasant but generic alt-rock, and as fun as it is, the boozy cock-rock pastiche “Boys” is pretty dumb and features one of the album’s weaker hooks.
Death by Unga Bunga are very, very good at doing what they do, and ultimately, your enjoyment of So Far So Good So Cool will probably come down to how much you like what they’re doing. If tooth-rottingly sweet power pop isn’t your bag, then this album probably doesn’t have much to offer you. But if you, like me, have a deep-seated love of loud, ridiculously catchy rock music, you’ll have a hard time wiping the smile off your face until the last notes of closer “Bye Bye” fade out. So Far So Good So Cool is genre fare through and through, and luckily for me, it’s a genre I can’t get enough of.