The Wonder Years: The Upsides Review

The Wonder Years is an alternative rock band for people looking for clever, humorous and fun music to listen to. Their music and the ideas behind it are unconventional and won’t exactly grab the attention of the masses, but those fortunate enough to give this band an extended listen will find amusingly intelligent lyrics, enjoyable choruses and memorable yet raw punk melodies. Lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s vocals may turn some listeners off due to his lack of polish, but it is undeniable that the unrefined nature of his voice lends to the album’s punk value and makes the songs more organic and appealing.

The guitar schemes from Matthew Brasch, Casey Cavaliere, bassist Josh Martin and guitarist/keyboardist Nick Steinborn are all extremely catchy and give each song its own feel while contributing to the overall fun but reflective atmosphere of the album. Michael Kennedy’s drumming accompanies this atmosphere perfectly. When all of these elements combine, the unique sound that results is fun and light while still managing to be contemplative and deep. The Wonder Years created honest and slightly profane music that is filled with youthful spirit and tells it like it is with their sophomore album, The Upsides. Because of this, they are able to simultaneously provoke thought and entertain, speaking to the college crowd while condemning it at the same time. But even though the album is certainly aimed at the adolescent crowd, almost anyone can find something appealing here.

Standout Tracks

“My Last Semester” kicks off the album with a profane-filled song focusing on the general spirit of college, which the band captures perfectly throughout the album. The alteration between sweet vocals with softer work from the instruments and coarse singing and fast strumming is the essence of The Wonder Years, and when this pattern is mixed with humorous lyrics slamming frat guys, “fake-tan girls,” and sappy, wannabe musicians, a perfect college punk song is born. Soupy’s harsh vocals during the upbeat sections fit the punk mentality extremely well, and the softer parts reveal the band’s deeper sentiments. This song establishes tones and central themes for the entire album.  Some may be transported back a few years to the glory days of punk rock by all this, as well as a very soulful guitar solo accompanied by the rest of the band chanting certain signature phrases.

“It’s Never Sunny In South Philadelphia” starts off with typical punk guitar-strumming that is quickly accompanied by splashy drumming and fast-paced riffs. The lyrics for the verses may seem like meaningless statements Soupy decided to insert randomly, but the humor found in each phrase lends to the general notion the song conveys that many listeners will be able to relate to on bad days. The line, “I don’t think I love anything,” and the feeling of not fitting in anywhere are both seemingly unpleasant concepts, but the guitar work and dual-vocal harmonizing  at the end of the song mixed with the song’s upbeat tempo gives it a hopeful feel in the face of that very adversity.

“Melrose Diner” showcases more of the band’s paradoxically catchy nature in a song about a dysfunctional adolescent relationship. The verses focus on telling a woman all her flaws in an expectantly funny fashion, while the chorus highlights the insecurity of the singer by stating that he needs the woman around and that he “can’t stand the dork that you’re hanging with now.”  In addition to producing music that is instrumentally appealing, the lyrics continue to impress by expressing serious and important themes through humorous and youthful means. Anyone who has been in a dysfunctional relationship but still has feelings for the person can relate to this song, but it’s definitely aimed at the college and high school crowd. Or anyone who likes this music video.

“This Party Sucks” gets the award for the best song on the album. It might be a bias against Jersey Shore, but this song captures the essence of the band at the peak of its appeal. Superb guitar riffs and consistent strumming  accompanies hearty drumming and harsh but likable singing to create a punk rock masterpiece. When lyrics about social awkwardness also happen to attack the national fascination with Jersey, this song becomes a true winner. The chorus speaks for itself: “Say, say you’ll stay with me today. / Say, say you’ll stay / ‘Cause you won’t find me on the north Jersey club scene / With the Girls Gone Wild B-team / I don’t need to pump my fist to look sweet.” Pure genius.

“Hey Thanks” changes things up and shows the band’s softer side and features only a ukulele for the first half of the song. Soupy proves that he can sing smoothly in addition to his regularly coarse vocals, and guest vocals from Rachel Minton add even more pleasant sentiments to the song. The song’s crescendo involves guitar and trombone and gives the song a distinctly happy feel. Soupy really gets to showcase his vocal firepower near the end of the song, and his strong feelings for the woman he’s singing to are evident, which only adds to its appeal.

The Verdict

The Wonder Years is not a conventional band, but their irregularly eccentric nature is what makes them so great. The band does not hesitate to bluntly point out the bad things in life, sometimes even with a little angst, but because they do so with such a humorous and hopeful tone, the music is has a theme of being uplifting in the face of the harder times. This theme mixes perfectly with punk rock and will certainly find a home with fans of bands like The Starting Line, All Time Low, New Found Glory and Four Year Strong, or anyone looking for unique music that points out the world’s problems while enjoying life at the same time.

The Upsides improves on the raw, harder sound of their debut album, Get Stoked On It! by taking that energy and converting it into something more relatable for a broader audience. While it may be disregarded by older listeners as “profane and loud” music for “those crazy kids,” but this is a shame, because this album touches on life in a funny and appealing way that anyone who was ever young can appreciate.

Final Score: 10/10

Rank: 1st (three total albums)

Track List

  1. My Last Semester
  2. Logan Circle
  3. Everything I Own Fits In This Backpack
  4. Dynamite Shovel
  5. New Years Eve With Carl Weathers
  6. It’s Never Sunny In South Philadelphia
  7. Hostels & Brothels
  8. Melrose Diner
  9. This Party Sucks
  10. Hey Thanks
  11. Washington Square Park
  12. All My Friends Are In Bar Bands

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  1. #1 by Anthony Reda on February 16, 2011 - 8:57 pm

    This is a pretty honest review. I have had the pleasure of listening to this album thanks to you and you nailed the punk-vibe but with a lot of humor. It seems like the band really enjoy what they do. Another stellar review. Keep ’em coming.

  2. #2 by MammaItaliana on February 20, 2011 - 12:45 pm

    Very interesting review. You have piqued my curiosity about this band. I like the unique, rough voices and so want to hear this band. I liked your term to that — organic. I think that’s very fitting.

    As for the appeal to adolescents and college crowd, it seems it may appeal to an older generation reminiscent of their college days. For though the vernacular and specific activities my be slightly different, much about college life has not changed.

    Thanks for the review. Always interesting to see where you lead us in our appreciation of music and lyrics…..

  3. #3 by Corbin Peters on April 17, 2011 - 6:14 pm

    The Wonder Years rule. “The Upsides” is one of the best pop-punk albums released in a long time.

    Here is a profile of the Wonder Years / Interview with Soupy I wrote for the UNC Charlotte Student Newspaper…
    http://corbinp.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/190/

    Check it out if you want to learn their story.
    Defend Pop-Punk!

  4. #4 by Gerald Bourguet on April 18, 2011 - 11:49 am

    Corbin Peters, thank you for sharing that story with me, it had an interesting angle to it and that’s awesome that you got to interview Soupy. I would just re-read your work and check for grammatical mistakes, that would be my only piece of advice, but other than that it was well done, thanks for sharing! I will also be reviewing The Wonder Years’ third album this June for its release so be sure to come back!

  5. #5 by adriana s insurance on July 31, 2012 - 9:23 am

    Howdy! This article could not be written any better! Reading through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He constantly kept talking about this. I’ll send this article to him. Fairly certain he’s going to have a great read. Thank you for sharing!

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