“You’re never gonna get the girl / You’re never gonna change the world.”
Of all the lines on ‘Shapeshifter’, the second album from Illinois pop-punks Knuckle Puck, this is perhaps the most intriguing. Delivered moments before the conclusion of ‘Gone’ – one of the finest slabs of emotional pop-punk anybody has produced in years – it’s a line that inadvertently sums up the band’s place in the world in just a few seconds. In a hollow and superficial industry that concerns itself more with star quality and marketable looks than anything else, they are indeed a band unlikely to get the girl; certainly compared to some peers who are as easy on the eye as they are on the ear. Where they might just triumph, however, is in changing the world. Because for anybody who is still interested in music for music’s sake, it’s unlikely that too many albums will top this in 2017.
Where 2015’s stellar ‘Copacetic’ established them as new kids on the block, ‘Shapeshifter’ sees Knuckle Puck making a grab for the crown of emotional and abrasive pop-punk – a crown that until recently was safely the property of The Story So Far, so much so that it’s a wonder it hasn’t already been sealed in a protective case. Front to back, start to finish, this is pop-punk for those who have lived, loved and lost and aren’t afraid to contemplate the fact that maybe, just maybe, it isn’t going to be their weekend or their year.
From the moment the jarring opening guitars of ‘Twist’ give way to a desperate refrain of “I’ve been wandering hopelessly, lost in my own skin”, the quintet barely put a foot wrong. ‘Double Helix’ boasts a chorus that is sure to see sweaty hordes desperately grabbing for the microphone and screaming until they’re red in the face, joining the likes of ‘Stuck In Our Ways’ as a surefire live favourite in the making. Melodically it’s damn near flawless – not least when they turn back time on the sublime ‘Want Me Around’ which strays perfectly into nineties romcom territory – but there’s also a grit and rawness that sets the band apart from so many.
‘Everyone Lies To Me’ offers a subtle nod to hardcore influences with its rumbling bass lines and dual vocal trade-offs, while the red-raw vocal yelps that appear on penultimate track ‘Wait’ recall Rise Against’s Tim McIlrath in his prime. It’s varied, brilliant stuff, and by the time closing track ‘Plastic Brains’ wraps itself around you, all expansive guitars and sweeping melodies that squeeze you tightly before gently releasing, it’s hard to know whether to press play again or simply have a lie down.
Forget the girl; the world is what really matters. And with ‘Shapeshifter’, it’s something that may be closer to Knuckle Puck’s grasp than they think.