Music-wise, my middle school years were characterized by the rise of pop punk. With all the biggest pop acts maturing, they made room for those following in the footsteps of bands like Blink-182–acts like Good Charlotte and Avril Lavigne, who took on similar song topics with a slightly harder edge. Among these acts was Simple Plan, a French Canadian rock group comprised of singer Pierre Bouvier, drummer Chuck Comeau, guitarists Jeff Stinco and Sebastien Lefebvre, and bassist David Desrosiers. Their debut album, No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls stands as the band’s bestselling album to date, and one of the more well known albums of the pop punk scene. Sure the songs are rather catchy, but a lot of songs are–what about them appealed to kids in that specific age group?
Looking back at No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls, I was surprised to find how earnest and innocent it was. The album is pure (pre)adolescent angst, comprised of Bouvier’s patented whine and a lot of feelings–something that becomes obvious when you remember that there’s actually a song called “God Must Hate Me” on there. The subject matter is pretty simple, mainly sticking to rebelling against parents and yearning after breakups–perfect for middle or high school kids who are just starting to experience both.
Their debut single, “I’m Just a Kid,” presents these overarching themes of the album, asserting everything is the worst because they’re stuck where they are. The song is full of loneliness and helplessness, but not in a hopeless way. Many of the songs take on a similar subject, meaning that some of them end up sounding kind of similar. The singles are definitely the tracks that stand out the most and make the album memorable in the first place.
Second single “I’d Do Anything” takes on the topic of relationships as they sing about doing anything to get someone back after a breakup. The song is rather literal and earnest; I’m inclined to believe that they were vaguely inspired by “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for how innocent and simple it is.
“Addicted,” the third single off of the album, is probably the most interesting song. The guitar riffs and drum beats that introduce the song sound a little retro-inspired, making it stand out from the rest of the album for structure alone. Lacking the angst weighing down some of the other songs, “Addicted” proves to be lighter fare (second only to the forgotten “My Alien,” which is actually about dating an alien girl), providing a nice lift for the middle of the album.
The band closed their debut with “Perfect,” the fourth and most successful single. One of two slower songs on the album, this track directly addresses the narrator’s father as they explain that they wanted to make him proud, but clearly can’t because they’re not perfect. Both Comeau and Desrosiers have claimed that this song is about their relationships with their parents, who didn’t approve of their choice to be in a band.
No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls was interesting to look back at as an adult for sure. Does the entire album necessarily stand the test of time? Maybe not–after listening to it again after many years, it felt pretty young. However the nostalgia factor is certainly there, and I imagine that if kids are still finding it, more power to them. After all, angst is something that never goes out of style, no matter which generation is coming of age.