Character-based concept albums are not new. Many groups have done it successfully over the last five decades, dating back to 1969 and The Who’s Tommy – the album credited as being “the first.” More recently, Green Day issued American Idiot which tore up the charts and is now a Broadway musical.
And now, we can add the Smoking Popes to that growing list and their niche approach is so unique that they may have just redefined a genre.
Josh Caterer (songwriter/singer/guitarist), his brothers Matt and Eli, and current drummer Neil Hennessey have emerged from a quiet period with a spectacular reflection on teen life. Written from the perspective of a suburban high schooler, This is Only a Test follows one character through various trials and tribulations related not only to maturity but also unrequited love.
Engineered and produced by Matt Alison (Alkaline Trio, Less Than Jake) at his Chicago-based Atlas Studio, This is Only a Test is definitely a Smoking Popes album. Josh Caterer’s croon is intact. The pop punk guitars are there. The melody-driven song structures remain. However, the album shows a maturity for the Popes. The sonic landscape has expanded and the overall mix seems more accessible than previous releases, even the great Destination Failure.
Clocking in at less than 40 minutes, This is Only a Test is not only an enjoyable album to listen to, the themes and subject matter ring very familiar to anyone who has successfully navigated their teen years or those currently experiencing those (somewhat) tumultuous times. Who knows, maybe in a couple of years, it’ll be developed into a musical suited for drama clubs.