Good Charlotte (Photo: MDDN)

Like many pop-punk bands of the late ’90s and early ’00s, Good Charlotte lost the plot once it strayed too far from its sweet spot. In fact, the band’s forays into then-trendy dance-pop (2007’s Good Morning Revival) and grown-up rock (2010’s Cardiology) derailed its career momentum. Yet after Good Charlotte went on hiatus in 2011, a funny thing happened: The newer crop of pop-punk superstars—including All Time Low and 5 Seconds Of Summer—started praising the band and cited it as a massive influence. In return, Good Charlotte principal members Benji and Joel Madden co-wrote songs for both groups, including 5 Seconds Of Summer’s minor hit “She’s Kinda Hot,” and decided to reactivate their own band.

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Wisely, Good Charlotte 2.0 sticks to the kind of no-frills, pop-leaning punk that first brought it fame and success. Youth Authority boasts a generous amount of chugging tempos and wind tunnel-like guitar surges, as well as speedy pogos such as “Life Changes” and the equally brisk “Keep Swingin’,” which features a helium-voiced cameo from Kellin Quinn of Sleeping With Sirens. Better still is the anxious “War,” which approximates Taking Back Sunday screamo downpours, and the album-closing “Moving On”; the latter’s bridge, with its stair-step strings and raw, urgent vocal delivery, has unexpected grit. These bursts of aggression and frustration add welcome friction and roughness.

In a smarter move, however, Youth Authority generally doesn’t try to recapture the good old days. Strings, acoustic guitars, and piano flourishes crop up frequently, and there’s also no shortage of moody, midtempo pop-rock ballads—highlighted by “Reason To Stay,” which has imaginative, Imogen Heap-esque stacked vocal effects. Lyrically as well, Youth Authority is all about moving forward. The record overflows with breezy, optimistic songs about overcoming obstacles and battling accusations of selling out; sticking with relationships despite issues or changes; and keeping a romance going.

Although these sentiments have universal appeal—a smart move for a band working on a comeback—the relentless underdog stance is wearying over the course of a full album. And when Good Charlotte does reference the past on “40 Oz. Dream,” the results are pandering and embarrassing. Musically, the song recalls Barenaked Ladies’ quirky, early-’00s acoustic-slicked pop, which is fine; lyrically, however, it marvels at how different the modern world is today, what with moms taking selfies, pop music with no guitars, and cops snoozing at now-tame 924 Gilman Street. Even more inexplicably, the chorus feels tacked on from an entirely different song: “Grew up on MTV / When they had Eazy-E / In California, yeah, they still know how to throw a party.” The Madden brothers have never been afraid to embrace all things new—for better or worse—and so the feigned surprise rings insincere.

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Despite these quibbles, Youth Authority does an admirable job updating Good Charlotte’s sound in ways that should please both long-term and new fans. Those who hated the group back in the day likely won’t be swayed by the record—but anyone looking for a rush of well-crafted ’00s pop-punk nostalgia can crank this album up guilt-free.