You don’t have to be a kid to get into the baby-faced pop punk of New Found Glory. But it helps — one glance at the title of their current hit, "My Friends over You," is all it takes to grasp their particularly juvenile approach to relationship politics. The song’s punch line is teen punk at its snottiest: "Though you swear that you are true/I’d still pick my friends over you." You have to look a little farther to realize that singer Jordan Pundik is actually apologizing to an erstwhile crush for continuing to hook up with her after he’s already broken things off. It’s a familiar adolescent conundrum, and the band give the song’s bittersweet pop framework a sturdy rock finish. There’s a glammy lead-guitar hook, a frisky hardcore interlude, and a sunny chorus full of fancy new-wave noodling. Summertime blues never felt this good.
"My Friends over You" is the standout track on New Found Glory’s third and latest album, Sticks and Stones (MCA). At an average age of 22, the band aren’t too far removed from their teenage subject matter, but they’re already veterans in the world of pop punk. Calling themselves A New Found Glory, they emerged in ’97 from the same South Florida all-ages scene that spawned Dashboard Confessional and Poison the Well. Their first full-length disc, Nothing Gold Can Stay, came out in ’99 on the scene-making SoCal label Drive-Thru, which issued the EP From the Screen to Your Stereo the following year. At the end of 2000, the band shortened their name to its present length and put out their second album, New Found Glory, on MCA. The disc’s lead single, "Hit or Miss," struck gold on commercial radio, and that turned them into pop-punk royalty — this summer, they’ll be one of the main draws at the Warped Tour, which hits Suffolk Downs on August 15.
There are plenty of reasons why NFG have risen to the top of the crowded teen-punk field. The most obvious one is Pundik: bands like this live and die by their schoolgirl appeal, and he’s got a voice as sweet as his face. But it goes deeper than that. Unlike a lot of their punk contemporaries, these guys have been calling themselves out as pop cheeseballs since day one — or at least since From the Screen to Your Stereo, an outrageous collection of ’80s movie-theme covers that turned Peter Cetera’s "The Glory of Love" (from The Karate Kid, Part II) into an emo anthem. "Hit or Miss" was about listening to Michael Jackson’s Thriller with your ex-girlfriend, and it doesn’t get more emo than the hilarious collage of junk-culture artifacts (Britney Spears ticket stub, Atari 2600 joystick, etc. . . .) on the cover of New Found Glory.
The action shot of two kids fighting on the cover of Sticks and Stones hits the kitsch target once again, and the band continue to embrace their sappy side on disc. "Sonny" is a swaying power-pop tune about the death of Pundik’s grandfather — it’s the least punk and most heartfelt song the band have done. Guitarists Chad Gilbert and Steve Klein lock into a tasty harmony part that serves as the song’s mournful refrain, and Pundik comforts himself with an age-old declaration of faith: "It’s better where you’re going anyway." Creed’s half-as-tuneful "With Arms Wide Open" hit the Top 40 with similar themes of God and family; it’ll only be fair if "Sonny" does the same.
For all their lofty commercial aspirations, NFG have a secret weapon for maintaining underground cred: guitarist Gilbert was the original frontman of Shai Hulud, a prominent all-ages metalcore band who got their start in South Florida and now reside in upstate New York. Regardless of how pop they’ve become, NFG still produce the occasional double-barreled speed burst, and their hardcore influence is more pronounced than ever on the new disc. They assembled an all-star East Coast hardcore posse (including members of H2O and Bane) to shout back-up vocals on the disc, and the juxtaposition of cooing harmony vocals and ballistic yelling on "Understatement" and "Singled Out" sounds cooler than it has a right to.
Still, NFG know they have more in common with ’N Sync than with Hatebreed, and they pull out all the stops on the climactic teen-punk power ballad "The Story So Far." "Until this day I’ve never found someone/With eyes as wide as yours," gushes Pundik at the outset, and the chorus steals a cadence from Backstreet Boys’ "As Long As You Love Me." They save the best stuff for the end, where the final chorus stretches out to include cutesy choral embellishments, an acoustic guitar-flavored bridge, and a ringing pop guitar solo. Like all the band’s best work, it sweetens their solid rock foundation with an impressive variety of ear candy — and you don’t have to be a kid to appreciate that.
New Found Glory appear as part of the Warped Tour on Thursday August 15 at Suffolk Downs. Call (800) 477-6849.