Photo Credit: Jordan Kelsey Knight
Harder Than It Looks is veteran Canadian emo rockers Simple Plan’s first new album of all-new material in six years (it follows 2016’s Taking One for the Team, which in turn was their first new album in five years), and starts with what’s probably the shortest musical psych-out in recent memory: there’s a brief acoustic piano section which is then abruptly whisked away within five seconds in favor of the rest of the track “Wake Me Up (When this Nightmare’s Over).” But that sentiment is the exact opposite of what rock – or at the very least, pop-punk– fans will be saying while listening to Harder Than It Looks, an airtight, right-to-the-point collection of ten hugely enjoyable tracks.
While the album throughout definitely follows a concise musical trajectory – the same basic sound that the band has always been known for – there are a couple of surprises. Straight-ahead rocker “A Million Pictures of You” sounds a bit like The Rembrandt’s 1995 number one hit “I’ll Be There For You” (the theme from Friends) with a hint of Alphaville’s “Forever Young.” Mid-tempo “Anxiety” is framed with a bouncy reggae beat as well as a hint of Foo Fighters’ deep cut “Dear Rosemary.” A guitar riff in the image of Def Leppard’s classic “Photograph” accompanies a classic punk drumbeat on “Best Day of My Life.” Which, in case you’re wondering, isn’t meant as irony. “’Cause now I’m starting to see // That my happiness has been up to me… // Today, I’ll live like my blessings are full // There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Iconic” also projects optimism, but does so from a more realistic perspective: “They say I’ll never leave a legacy // But one day, you’re gonna see the best of me… // I’m gonna be iconic.” Could the band, here, be talking about their very selves? Well, after two decades and a prolonged absence, Simple Plan may be facing an uphill battle: while every one of their previous releases has gone Top Five in their native Canada, as of this writing, Harder Than It Looks has only reached #84 in the Great White North and has yet to even chart in the US. This is an inexplicable shame since Harder Than It Looks has all the makings of a great summer album for 2022.
Back to the record itself: that positive, uplifting tone carries right through to the end, with the album closer – and arguably best cut – “Two”, even as it examines a difficult subject, being sung from the perspective of the child of a broken home (“You tell me it’ll be okay // But that’s what you’re supposed to say”). The song is not only a perfect curtain-dropper but also reminds everyone that “emo” is short for “emotional,” and does so in a way that’s real, not contrived or consciously manipulative. Then there’s the album’s title, Harder Than It Looks, which may be the band’s subtle way of telling their detractors that they should at least have some fundamental respect for the effort that goes into what they do. There was probably no need: almost anyone who hears this record will be too busy enjoying it to diss it. Even though not a single track or note on Harder Than it Looks is remotely groundbreaking, the band still proves that sometimes a Simple Plan is the best plan.