Zachary Lipez (Freshkills, Publicist UK) Talks the Madden Brothers’ Greetings from California

Joel Madden, if you’re reading, none of this is personal.

I finished this piece right before going to work. Then I tweeted a dumb joke about feeling blessed to be able to write about the Madden Brothers album and then go tend bar. Then Joel Madden followed me on Twitter.

Considering that I also recently wrote a snarky article about Nick Jonas, the existential question hangs over my head: “Am I forever doomed to go through life hurting the feelings of improbably good-looking pop rockers from the Daylight/Epic Records back catalogue?”

It’s bad enough that I’ve grown to like far too many terrible bands over the years because I got drunk with them and they lent me money. Now I have to start feeling remorse and empathy because someone grotesquely famous follows me on Twitter? Is this, as the kids so irritatingly ask, life?

Well, apparently it is. Joel Madden following me on Twitter did humanize him. I don’t feel bad for him, but I feel bad for his wife, Nicole Richie, who will have to comfort him when he is on the couch, feeling all sad after my not entirely kind take on his new album. (Mr. Madden, Ms. Richie, please keep in mind that my lady has had to do the same. Take, for example, the time when I was on the couch crying after learning that my last album’s sales totaled, if memory serves, 115 physical, 300 digital. Just some perspective to brighten your day.)

I’m not changing my initial piece, because that would be weird. But, given my newfound understanding of Joel Madden As An Actual Human Being, I offer a few caveats:

Joel, my girlfriend enjoyed all the songs that I played for her off of your album. She has much better taste than I. She got me into Kate Bush. Please know that.

You’re one of the most successful pop musicians of this young century. It might be time to turn off the Google alert.

You may want to stop reading now.

There’s a song on the Madden Brothers new DOUBLE ALBUM, Greetings from California, called “Good Gracious Abbey.” The Abbey of the song is a former Rikki who long ago lost that number. She doesn’t go to shows, doesn’t like rock & roll, is too cool for the scene, has covered up her tattoos and has new hair and clothes. The Madden Brothers disapprove. They follow each pronouncement of her counter-revolutionary behavior with an “are you serious?” and, while missing young Abbey a bit, they register strong disapproval.

I have never in my entire life envied someone like I envy Abbey. Take me with you, Abbey. Rock & roll, if that’s what all this is, is terrible and the straight world, like death, has to be better than the one I’m currently in.

The first time I heard or saw one of the twin brothers Madden was when they were hawking their Daylight Records/Good Charlotte product on MTV. They were guest hosts and on-the-street band interviewers on one of the shows that replaced Alternative Nation and 120 Minutes. It was aimed squarely at the not yet-a-complete-punch-line Warped Tour audience and had lots of sass and attitude. I believe it was called Tattoos on Stuff. Anyway, the Madden Brothers were likable and funny and had neck tattoos. As a lover of both pop-punk and complete garbage, I thought to myself, “Eh… I’ll bet I won’t hate them.” Then I listened to them and realized that the sun was setting on all my outdated notions about pop-punk and neck tattoos. This was just bad guitar-tone nursery rhymes for tweens who found Atreyu too edgy. Good Charlotte — and let’s get ahead of the revisionists who have their critical-reappraisal memory pieces ready — were a not very good band. They were the lose-lose proposition of not being terrible enough for me actively to defend on contrarian principles alone in a bar full of punks, and certainly not good enough to listen to. They were 3 Doors Down but not, you know, straight-up imperialist propaganda (or at least their propaganda was more subtle: Rock & Roll Brand Music As Rebellion).

If you liked them, spare me the hate mail; you’re not wrong, I’m not wrong, we’re just talking here. But if you were actually in Good Charlotte, email me and I’ll give you my work address so you can come and yell at me in person during my bar shift. Bring your neck tattoo. And your baby. I love babies. (Actually, fans can send me hate mail too. Defend your guys! Goes with the gig.)

A double album by the Madden Brothers; what the fuck am I supposed to do with this thing? It feels like a stone the size of Pangaea on my heart and in my inbox. Like Pangaea, Greetings from California is infuriating because it’s almost good. Pangaea took about 100 million years to become the cool earth that we all dig so hard. The Madden Brothers album might have been good if they’d had a couple of editors and maybe one honest friend.

Look, I suspect the brothers are super, super, super, super, super nice guys. And that’s great for, well, them… but also their families and loved ones. But if half the songs on this album, and the weird, toughest-guy-in-boy-band hand-motions they feel the need to make throughout the entire video for the almost aggressively mellow song “We Are Done” are any indication, they have not a single soul in their camp with the courage to tell them, “Joel, Benji, this shit is corny as hell. I still love you, but straighten out your cap because you’re an adult.”

OK, I’ve just said a bunch of cruel things. Let’s cover the positives of this album, which are (to a snob like me, maybe less so to you) surprisingly abundant. The twins’ talent for melody is great. There are so many lovely ’60s-style tunes on this monster. You know how terms like “Beatlesque” and “Beach Boys-esque” are always fawningly applied to bullshit indie wet blankets who can’t write actual tunes but have the wherewithal to throw the studio against the speakers and see what works? Well, Greetings from California is neither of those things, but at its very best it successfully conjures up plenty of low-key Mamas and Papas vibes that are both memorable and effective. At least until the choruses kick in. This album is jam-packed with delicate and effective verses, verses that might conceivably be found on a Love album (OK… maybe a Lovin’ Spoonful album), and that lead me to think, “This is the song I’m going to love all the way through!” And then they go full-on Soaring Chorus For No Reason and I want to kick the couch again.

(Note: “Brixton” and “Out of My Mind” are straight-up pop yumminess all the way through. If all 15 tracks were like these two, this would be a very different piece.)

About “We Are Done,” my girlfriend says, “I like it. It makes me feel good. It’s like Robbie Williams and late-era Blur.” (I should note here that my girlfriend is a beautiful genius but she’s very free with her Robbie Williams comparisons.)

The rest of the album sounds like Sublime with a collection of Instagram-style inspirational quotes instead of lyrics. No, wait, I’m being cruel again. Look, if you like very mellow pop and well-produced white R&B there is a LOT to love about this album.

It’s just that this is so far from being what I think of as rock & roll and what I love about pop — its transcendent joy, its ability to take one out of the world — that I… well, hate is too strong a word, so let’s just say I strongly don’t care for this album. It makes me upset. It makes me upset that people are richer than me and that they breathe such rarified air that middling, just-good-enough art is a luxury they can afford to put out, and nobody tells them that they can and should do better. I’m jealous and aggrieved. The Madden Brothers can get away with this, and it’s entirely unfair of me to blame them for not sounding like Weekend Nachos. It’s unfair to hold music of a genre about which I, by both disposition and ideology, give zero fucks, to the standards by which I judge music that, you know, sends me higher (Sam Cooke, Godflesh, etc.). But, shit, if this album proves anything, it’s that life is unfair.

Now, the Madden Brothers won’t read this piece. But if they do, they’ll probably live.*

*Written before Twitter following, and kept in to maintain the sure, why not? integrity of the original piece.

Zachary Lipez is the singer of the band Publicist UK. He is the co-author (with Stacy Wakefield and Nick Zinner) of a number of books, most recently 131 Different Thinks (Akashic 2018). He is a freelance writer in NYC and tends bar at 124 Old Rabbit Club.