The Wonder Years created a pop punk masterpiece with their sophomore album, The Upsides. Writing a review for that album was relatively easy because it was such unique, refreshing and intelligent music. Anyone who listened to it could identify its dichotomous nature as amusing but truthful, poignant but lighthearted, and realistic but hopeful. Simply put, it was clever pop punk that breathed life into a genre that is growing increasingly repetitive and stale. Success like that would seem impossible to duplicate for a regular pop punk band whose first album was less than stellar. Fortunately, The Wonder Years isn’t a regular band.
The Philly sextet have created another memorable entry in their discography with Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing. It is always difficult to follow up a phenomenal album, but The Wonder Years has succeeded in balancing the two main areas of concern when creating a followup: 1) Keeping the appealing components of the prior album intact while 2) expanding on them to ensure that the new music isn’t just a reiteration of the old. Basically, a fan wants to hear something similar to what they grew to love, but not the exact same thing. In this regard, the band has succeeded. It’s true, some fans may be slightly deterred by the band’s venture into more alternative territory. Certain guitar riffs are comparable to New Found Glory while the raw, sometimes dual vocal style brings Taking Back Sunday to mind. But looking at the album as a whole, as well as lead singer Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s mentality, the fact remains that The Wonder Years is still a pop punk outfit with the same knack for creating clever, amusing, raw, brutally honest, catchy, offbeat and moving music all at the same time.
“Came Out Swinging” immediately reassures any listener that the group’s back in the exact same style that garnered the attention of the pop punk crowd. This track would fit in perfectly with The Upsides but at the same time, establishes a slightly different tone. While The Upsides focused on the feeling of discovering how to keep depression at bay, Suburbia quickly centers on the struggle of actually using those methods to avoid sadness. Soupy doesn’t hesitate to spill through his lyrics, and this track gives an inside look to his personal progression despite a continued search for answers (“I came in here alone, but that doesn’t scare me like it did seven months ago; I spent this year as a ghost and I’m not sure where home is anymore”). Soupy’s raw yet refined vocals are a welcome sound for anybody who’s been aching for the new album, as are the backing vocals, upbeat drumming, heavy guitar riffs and background keys that give the song its heartfelt vibe. All in all, a great start.
“Local Man Ruins Everything” was the group’s first single and rightfully so, as it is the best song on the album. An engaging guitar riff scheme and fast-pace drumming kick things off, which are soon joined by Soupy’s sharp and rugged singing/shouting, giving the song a typical pop punk feel (a la Taking Back Sunday). The softer portions of the song lend it a remarkably poignant undertone, especially with brutally honest lyrics like “I’m not a self-help book, I’m just a fucked up kid; I had to take my own advice and I did, now I’m waiting for it to sink in.” With its extremely addictive sound and message, this track is sure to garner some attention.
“I Won’t Say The Lord’s Prayer” is sure to generate a fair share of controversy due to its irreverent and blasphemous message toward the Christian church. Looking at the lyrics shows that most of the negativity is aimed at the institution itself along with its hypocritical, “repeat after me” nature, which is not far from the truth. The song’s nature leads one to believe there is a certain sadness behind Soupy’s words: The song starts off with some reserved guitar and bass along with soft vocals that slowly grow into wailing. Dramatic and heavy guitar and drums kick in to give the song its desperately forlorn tone. So while the words alone will discourage most Christian believers from enjoying this song, looking at their context along with the characterizing instruments might reveal one source of Soupy’s sadness: the refusal to accept a hypocritical system to find meaning. Many will disagree with the message against the Christian church, but there is no denying there is a certain tragic beauty in this song.
“Don’t Let Me Cave In” doesn’t have an extremely compelling chorus, but examining the word’s reveals the trending desire to defeat sadness. The guitar riffs and drumming are solid enough to grab attention, and even though the chorus is slightly lackluster, the song’s pleading for help is striking. Soupy’s begging “Don’t let me cave in!” is vocally appealing and is one of those proclamations that strikes a chord with anyone who can relate.
“Hoodie Weather” is this album’s “This Party Sucks,” an underrated song that won’t be as popular as the main hits, but may be one of the best on the album. The chorus is The Wonder Years at its pop punk catchiest, as the guitar riffs are fun and upbeat. Soupy continues to amaze with his writing and singing, this time using a metaphor of Philly’s cold weather to make a point about dealing with hard times: “So when the weather breaks, I’ll pull my hoodie over my face; I won’t run away, run away, as fucked as this place got, it made me me.”
The Wonder Years is a unique blend of contradicting elements that combine to create a message of hope. Just like before, by being completely honest and observant of the world, Soupy has uncovered the key to not letting the world bring him down, which he iterates in the third track when he proclaims, “What I learned was it’s not about forcing happiness; it’s about not letting the sadness win.” Suburbia does another excellent job of recognizing the ups and downs of life and converting that message into appealing pop punk with a certain angst. Soupy deserves praise for his brilliant yet quirky writing style: while the lyrics are somewhat unconventional, their truthful, revealing and autobiographical nature draws in any listener. When you add in the words’ raw delivery, catchy guitar riffs and upbeat and infectious drum beats, you have another compelling album. Which is no ordinary feat for a pop punk group.
The one question fans must have is: How does it stack up against The Upsides? At this point, it’s hard to determine. The Upsides was such a surprise hit that it’s hard to compare without taking the high expectations, the new influence of alternative, and similarities to the last album into account. It will most likely come down to personal opinion; some will support the group’s newest as best while the rest will back the band’s original masterpiece. However, there is no question that Suburbia is a fantastic record that will stay with listeners for a long time and contribute to what is sure to be a fantastic career for the band. Fans of New Found Glory, Taking Back Sunday, Fireworks, The Starting Line and Four Year Strong will find themselves right at home with this album, as will anyone who’s looking for some solid pop punk and can relate to the band’s message of hope and resilience in the wake of life’s highs and lows.
Final Score: 9.5/10
Rank: 2nd (three total albums)
- Came Out Swinging
- Woke Up Older
- Local Man Ruins Everything
- My Life As A Pigeon
- Summers In PA
- I Won’t Say The Lord’s Prayer
- Coffee Eyes
- I’ve Given You All
- Don’t Let Me Cave In
- You Made Me Want To Be A Saint
- Hoodie Weather
- And Now I’m Nothing