When New Found Glory broke into the mainstream in the early 2000s, it certainly wasn’t amongst a shortage of pop-punk bands. The post-Blink boom meant that for a few years, every bunch of spiky-haired kids in Dickies was getting picked up by a major and amassing radio and MTV coverage. But what always set New Found Glory apart from their Warped Tour ilk was their genuine connection to heavy music. A teenaged Chad Gilbert was the vocalist for metalcore legends Shai Hulud before he was New Found Glory’s guitarist, and where other pop-punk bands of the time were taking influence from the likes of Descendents and Screeching Weasel, NFG were drawing more from East Coast hardcore like Madball and Snapcase. They positioned NYHC guitar tones as the backdrop to sickly-sweet pop vocals, and mastered both elements better than any of their peers could.
This distinction set New Found Glory up for longevity that outlasted pop punk’s commercial day in the sun, and such longevity makes inevitable – and perhaps relies on – a change in course. So in 2006, while bands like Midtown and Fenix TX had dissolved around them, New Found Glory released their fifth album Coming Home. It swapped the crunchy riffs for mid-tempo soft rock more comparable to, say, Journey than to their heavy early influences. It was a smart move, with pop-punk by now commercially dead in the water as emo-pop took its place, and one that paid off too; it was likely better received critically than any of their records prior.
But though the experimentation wasn’t unwelcome, something about it felt uncomfortable, as if the band could never fully commit to it. The songs were good, but lacked the conviction that the purity of their hardcore roots lent their earlier work. Besides, in the aftermath of the record, circumstances became less rosy for them; they parted ways with Geffen Records, frustrated with the label’s treatment of the album, and both Gilbert and lead singer Jordan Pundik went through divorces the following year. By 2008, the band were in a place where pianos weren’t going to cut it anymore. As work began on their sixth record, they started throwing a new term around in reference to themselves and tourmates A Day To Remember, Four Year Strong and Set Your Goals: ‘easycore.’ These were bands that combined the catchiest heights of pop-punk with the aggression of hardcore and metalcore.
Recorded with Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus and released on Epitaph (NFG’s first record on an indie since their debut), Not Without a Fight was a reintroduction and a reclamation. The first track “Right Where We Left Off” opens the record with the lines, “You can’t get rid of me that easy, no / Not without a fight”; though the song seems to be addressed to a volatile lover, it’s easy to see how those opening lyrics ring doubly true as a statement of intent for the entire record. Where they could have let themselves be written off as a band past their prime, losing touch with what made them special in the first place, they returned with a triumphant snarl and a newly clear vision of what this band was supposed to be; if there was one thing they were no longer short on, it was conviction.
Hardcore’s presence is felt on this record more urgently than on any previous, both musically and in its fighting spirit. The chugging guitars of “Such A Mess” and “47” push their East Coast influences to the forefront, while Gilbert’s hype-man shouts in “Don’t Let Her Pull You Down” provide a heavier edge than Pundik’s signature whine could manage. When paired with the undeniable catchiness that NFG have always excelled at, at its best here on “Tangled Up” and “Listen To Your Friends,” it carries the record with a unique energy and momentum.
Despite the strength of the songs, though, the record’s lyrical content does reveal a pitfall in the pop-punk/hardcore crossover. Hardcore’s worldview is typically accusatory rather than introspective; ‘you’ far more often than ‘I.’ But when applied to pop punk subject matter, which mostly (exclusively, on this record) deals with relationship angst, the lack of introspection means a constant and exhausting posing of love interest as antagonist. Take “Heartless At Best,” named for the line “The twisted thoughts that come out of your mind are heartless at best,” or “Listen To Your Friends,” which declares, “I should have listened to my friends when they told me you had bad intentions.” At a certain point in the record, the finger pointing begins to feel immature at best, and subtly misogynistic at worst.
Still, though not a flawless record, Not Without a Fight holds its own ten years on as one of the strongest in New Found Glory’s sizeable catalog. And as the sound of the band learning how to move forward embracing their identity rather than pushing it aside, it marks perhaps the most crucial moment in their output too. More crucial still, though, is the way this record reanimated pop punk: post-2009, bands like The Wonder Years, Knuckle Puck and The Story So Far (the latter of which took their name from an early NFG song) emerged with a shared hardcore-infused sound that had Not Without a Fight’s fingerprints all over it. Though this second pop-punk golden age never reached the commercial heights of the first, it was the most fertile the genre had been in a decade, and New Found Glory were the architects of it. They were happy to champion it, putting together tour packages that showcased the genre’s new lease of life and adopting the motto ‘Pop Punk’s Not Dead.’ Yet it’s not a stretch to say that had New Found Glory gone down without a fight a decade ago, it may well be.