As somebody who always strives to expand my musical horizons, I find it to be rather intruiging that pop-punk still speaks to me the most lyrically. There’s just no denying it. When done right, the genre is able to resurrect the best days of my life and I’m even able to live them all over again. Obviously not all bands in the genre possess the talent to write such substantial songs, but in recent years several new acts have been carrying the torch so to speak for the world of pop-punk. Of these bands, The Wonder Years always seem to be ahead of the pack. So it’s not a huge surprise that their newest effort The Greatest Generation finds them evolving into their most primal form yet. Their lyrics have always been one of their greatest attributes, but for the first time in the band’s career, their exceptional lyrics and musicianship go hand in hand.
Although The Greatest Generation contains many of the honest, energetic pop-punk tunes The Wonder Years are known for, it also has some tracks couldn’t have possibly been on their last album. A big part of this is due to the welcome improvement in the vocal work of Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell. He still utilizes many of his harsher vocals that we’ve come to known and love, but his voice is also more crisp and accessible than I ever thought possible. ‘The Devil in My Bloodstream’ begins as a piano ballad with what could easily be his most poignant performances to date. It’s accompanied by the gentle guest vocals of singer-songwriter Laura Stevenson and the two make for a nice little duet before the song picks up the pace into an angry full-fledged punker . It’s like the perfect combinatation of sweet and sour as it captures Soupy’s ability to blend emotion with brutal honesty. However, it’s certainly not the only song that marks an improvement in his voice; how many songs are there again? You get the idea. It’s more than just his softer clean singing that stands out though, as he also lays down some of his angriest vocals to date on songs like ‘The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves’ or the lyrical powerhouse ‘Passing Through A Screendoor.’
To add even more flavor to the mix, the instrumentation throughout The Greatest Generation is top-notch. The opening track ‘There, There’ is one of the most upbeat tracks they’ve ever done, partly thanks to the bouncy guitars that sound very reminiscent of The Gaslight Anthem. The lyrics have always been a step ahead of the instrumentation, but the band lay that issue to rest on the opening track as the jangly guitar-work actually steals the show at times. ‘Cul-de-sac” and ‘Chaser’ are also infused with punchy guitars that accompany Soupy’s powerful pipes. It’s not that the instrumentation was bad on their last album, but there’s just a lot more going on musically this time around and the guitars possess a new abundance of life.
Before hearing this album, I already knew the lyrics would be hard-hitting. The reason is simple – Soupy doesn’t sugarcoat anything when he puts his pen to paper. Over the course of their last few albums he’s been nothing but upfront and even painfully honest about his thoughts on topics such as death, religion, and life itself. Rarely does he spend his time singing about girls like many of his peers but instead we are given lyrics like The memories of those years seem dimly lit like I never replaced a light bulb and I bet I’d be a fucking coward, I bet I’d never have the guts for war. It’s apparent this isn’t just another pop-punk band aimed at high school kids -if anything, it’s catered for a much older audience. The lyrics are about figuring out what to do with your life when you find yourself growing older but not necessarily moving forward. They also deal with facing lifes greatest struggles such as failure or even death. In the upbeat but emotional ‘Dismantling Summer’ Soupy mourns over the sickness of his Great Grandfather and his guilt following his passing as he sings If I”m in an airport and you’re in a hospital bed, what kind of man does that make me? It makes the song as impacting as it is catchy and anybody who has ever lost someody close to them can find shelter in its meaningful lyrics.
Much like The Wonder Year’s last two albums, The Greatest Generation is full of recurring themes and this time they all intersect in the phenomenal album closer ‘I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral.’ Although it’s a brand new track with its own unique lyrics and chorus, it also seamlessly mixes in giant hooks that we already heard throughout the album. It may sound lazy to just throw in some sections from various songs on the album, but they do it with such conviction that it feels nothing like treading familiar water. If anything, it’s an exciting way to relive some of the best parts of the album in under eight minutes. They don’t just throw in the same recording’s for the vocals however, as Soupy sounds more passionate than the rest of the album in what could easily be the best track of the band’s career. It’s risky to make a pop-punk track that clocks in over 7 minutes, (let alone over 5) but The Wonder Year’s hard work and dedication has more than paid off with their newest album. I don’t see anything topping it anytime soon, at least not in the pop-punk spectrum. It challenges the limits of the genre and really does makes me proud to be a member of this generation, but most importantly, it makes me feel young again.
1. There, There
2. Passing Through A Screen Door
3. We Could Die Like This
4. Dismantling Summer
5. The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves
6. The Devil in My Bloodstream
7. Teenage Parents
9. An American Religion (FSF)
10. A Raindance In Traffic
13. I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral