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Good Charlotte Tries New Direction

In a pop-punk field increasingly populated with interchangeable sound-alike bands, Good Charlotte has made a bid to break away from the pack with its second CD, “The Young & the Hopeless.”

Lead singer Joel Madden, who along with twin brother Benj writes the group’s songs, credits Eric Valentine, the producer of “The Young & the Hopeless,” with helping to expand the group’s musical horizons.

“He challenged me to write different songs than just a bunch of songs that were kind of the same thing,” Joel Madden said. “He was like, ‘Why don’t you try writing some songs that you wouldn’t hear on a Good Charlotte record?’

“We still have our handful of pop-punk songs and songs that I love and that’s definitely a part of Good Charlotte,” he said. “But we’re just trying to go somewhere else, too…. That’s where Eric, he taught me how to listen with a different ear, you know, and really try to challenge myself to write different kinds of songs, to not be afraid to go deeper.”

The pop-punk side of the Good Charlotte is represented on the new CD by tunes like, “The Story of My Old Man,” “Riot Girl” and “Movin’ On,” which adhere to the fast, catchy and upbeat sound that typifies the style.

But the CD is more defined by other songs that stretch that sound. The recent modern rock hit, “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous,” with its booming beat and catchy chorus, has more in common with the power pop of Cheap Trick than punk. “Wondering” and “Girls & Boys” also fall more into a pure pop category with their restrained instrumentation and more measured tempos.

The ballads “Emotionless” and “Say Anything” are two other obvious stylistic departures, while “My Bloody Valentine,” which shifts between punk-ish rock and ghostly interludes, also strays from the pop-punk blueprint.

Good Charlotte also rises above its pop-punk peers on a lyrical level. Where most groups concern themselves mainly with songs about girls, self esteem, alienation and other issues of the typical teen life, Good Charlotte digs deeper.

The Madden twins have had enough difficult events in their lives to give them plenty of inspiration for their heavier lyrics.

Now 23, the twins were 16 when their father abandoned the family on Christmas Eve. Their mother suffered from lupus, making it impossible for her to work steadily. The Maddens were evicted from their home; poverty was a constant companion for the next several years.

Joel and Benj Madden’s feelings about their father fueled the song “Complicated” from the first CD. They revisit the subject with considerable candor in the song “Emotionless.”

“We haven’t talked to him since he left, and that song was kind of going, ‘All right, I don’t think it’s going to happen,'” Joel Madden said. “We have to kind of come to our own kind of closure. It’s a very honest song. It’s not saying we’re angry, but we’re not necessarily OK.”

“Emotionless” isn’t the only time the Madden brothers wear their emotions on their sleeves. “The Story of My Old Man,” while it references their father, actually centers on Benj Madden’s battle with a drinking problem – a revelation that Joel Madden said has caught the group’s largely teenage fan base off-guard.

“It’s something that we never talked about, and we still don’t really talk about it,” Joel Madden said. “But he deals with it and it is very real and he is beating it. But it’s not something that I think our fans could ever relate to.”

Three other songs on the CD, “The Day That I Die,” “Movin’ On” and “My Bloody Valentine,” deal at least in part with mortality – which might seem odd coming from someone like Joel Madden, who has yet to reach his mid-20s.

“I personally definitely think about death a lot,” Joel Madden said. “And sometimes I wonder if I’ll go sooner than later… those songs come from those times when I’m definitely, if I heard about a friend of mine who passed or something I just became obsessed with the thought of what’s going on.”

Fortunately, the career of Good Charlotte – and for that matter, the day-to-day life of the band on tour – isn’t nearly as dark as some of the lyrics on “The Young & the Hopeless.”

Formed in Waldorf, Md., six years ago by the Madden twins, the group, which also includes bassist Paul Thomas, guitarist Billy Martin and newly recruited drummer Chris Wilson (Josh Frese of the Vandals and A Perfect Circle played drums on “The Young & the Hopeless”), enjoyed a quick rise to the national scene.

Within two years, the band relocated to Annapolis, Md., and began gigging regularly on the music scene. Good Charlotte started playing events hosted by the Washington, D.C., area radio station, WHFS, landed an East Coast tour with Lit, and in 2000, a demo of the song “Little Things” began getting airplay on WPLY radio in Philadelphia.

That was enough to draw interest from several record labels. The group had signed with Epic Records and in September 2000, its self-titled debut CD arrived in stores.

The “Good Charlotte” CD went on to sell nearly 400,000 copies, while the songs “Little Things” and “Festival Song” gained considerable airplay.

“The Young & the Hopeless” has gone onto bigger things, having already topped 1 million in sales. The CD’s first single, “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous,” (a tune that pokes fun at cry-baby celebrities) was a modern rock hit and a second single, “The Anthem,” recently went top 10 on the same chart, firmly establishing the CD’s commercial momentum. A recent Rolling Stone cover story also cemented the band’s status as a major new act.

Joel Madden said he’s keeping the group’s good fortunes in perspective.

“We feel the buzz right now and we feel the hype right now, and that’s what we believe it is,” he said. “You know with every new record comes the new hype, the push…. You get your video and you get your album airplay and then it could go away or it could stay. That’s the way it is, and we know that. So we’re not buying into our own hype. We’re kind of just going to keep touring and keep pushing it ourselves.”

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