The Wonder Years
I wonder exactly how many reviews of this album will start with the opening line of the album: “I’m not sad anymore…” Not this one that’s for sure.
But it is a great (and on my part, lazy) way to start to the review because, I’m not sad anymore. I’m not sad about the lack of truly great, unashamed pop-punk anymore, because this album is proof that it still exists.
That’s not to say there haven’t been other good pop-punk bands about if you look for them. This “job” (ha ha) has made that search easier for me, bands like Transit and Man Overboard reminded me that pop-punk still exists, but it is this album, the most complete pop-punk album I have heard for a good long while, that shows that the genre can still be original, creative and above all, great.
What sticks out first of all is the maturity of the band, and the progression from Get Stoked On It to this. While a band’s maturation is something that is to be desired, even expected, from album to album, what the Wonder Years have done is realise that as a band matures, the listener is maturing at the same pace. It is clear that the Wonder Years were bored of singing songs about things that didn’t affect them anymore, so they have written an album about what they care about, and for them that is looking on the better side of things. It is refreshing to hear an album that reminds you that your life is only as shitty as you tell yourself it is.
Not that The Upsides is all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, but it just reminds you that things can always be worse, and that perhaps it’s time to stop taking things so seriously. That’s a pretty good message, and one that pop-punk is often lacking. Usually the genre is represented by the binary of how a girl broke your heart or party anthems for your “bros”. The Wonder Years are showing that there is room in the middle, and it’s pretty nice there.
The album is musically everything a good pop-punk album should be. It has hooks galore, at least one instantly memorable part in every song, and you couldn’t pick a flaw in the rhythm section or the guitarists. The short, sharp Dynamite Shovel is the next best thing to a new Latterman album going, a band that have clearly influenced the whole album. The driving drums propelling the song forward until the breakdown, which punctuate the album in a way that is not at all overdone, and by the time the gang vocals kick in, you would swear you were listening to We Are Still Alive….
However, where this album properly excels, and why it deserves all the praise I have heaped upon it, is in the lyrics. By god they are good. And we’re not talking ridiculous abstract, ‘I better say I like these so I look cool’, or ‘stick this as my Facebook status because I’m so deep’ lyrics. We’re talking straight up, brutally honest, well written, clever, funny lyrics - you know the kind the wish you could write? Without these lyrics, the album would have been good, but not great, and without them the whole idea of the album may have come across a touch pretentious, so it’s a pretty good job that they are the glue that binds the whole thing together. Lyrical themes constantly crop up in song after song; this was an album that was written as an album. This is not a random collection of songs, this whole thing works as a coherent piece of music.
From the almost obligatory song about touring: Hostels and Brothels to the again, almost obligatory song about hating the club scene: This Party Sucks, the Wonder Years don’t exactly tackle new subjects, as subject them to a form of lyrical revisionism. Yes, being on the road is a bit shit and yes clubs do generally suck balls, but it’s up to you to do something about that.
Perhaps the stand out lyrical track on the album is the one that tackles the typical pop-punk theme: that girl. Melrose Diner is the song that people wish they were brave enough to write, instead of the angry, catharsis of the typical pop-punk song, this is the muted, dignified response:
“My friends all say he’s just a b-rate version of me/…they’re just trying to help me get some sleep/ I know he’s what you need”
If you ever thought a mature pop-punk album was an oxymoron than this is the album to change your mind.
This is the album that makes it alright to still be listening to pop-punk well out of your teens, in fact it should be compulsory listening.