One year can make a huge difference. At the beginning of 2010, there were incessant clamors of pop-punk demise and its obvious shift in philosophy towards commercialization. Since then, the pop-punk scene experienced a renaissance with genre stalwarts like Four Year Strong and Set Your Goals reaching new heights and newcomers Man Overboard and Fireworks gaining widespread attention. After what most would describe as pop-punk’s dark age, the genre is now awash with countless of derivative bands trying to hitch a ride on the nostalgia train. Of all the bands leading the reinvigoration of pop-punk, The Wonder Years stand head and shoulders above the competition. Instead of emulating their forefathers, the band blazed new frontiers in 2010 with their album The Upsides by taking the genre’s musical signifiers—such as fast tempos and an abundance of hooks— and incorporating poignant lyrics, including a revolving theme of “I’m not sad anymore.” Frontman and lyricist Soupy Campbell greatest talent as a songwriter was his innate ability to capture the psyche of the average youth with his words. Consequently, Soupy’s lyrics were relatable to those experiencing adversities similar to his own. Campbell is no Oberst or Berninger, but there is value in relating to the youth demographic. The Upsides was nothing short of a smashing success, winning over scores of audiences and critics—including yours truly—and garnered The Wonder Years widespread fame and a record deal with indie powerhouse Hopeless Records.
Following up what an album that some consider as the best pop-punk album in years—and within one year of each other—can seem like a daunting, if not impossible, task. With this subsequent album, there are two possible outcomes: further prominence ala New Found Glory’s Sticks And Stones or stunning mediocrity akin to Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown. Enter Suburbia I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing. From the previously released record sampler, Suburbia appeared to fall into the latter category; it seemed contrived, miserably failing to recapture the magic apparent in The Upsides. However, these songs did not prove to be indicative of the album’s quality. Rather, it is another masterpiece that solidifies The Wonder Years standing in the upper echelon of pop-punk.
Equally ambitious as its predecessor, Suburbia is loosely based on Allen Ginsberg’s “America,” expressing discontent with the band’s surroundings. However, the record functions less like a concept album and serves more as a logical progression from The Upsides in all aspects. Lyrically, Suburbia is as an affirmation to The Upsides while also serving as further catharsis for Campbell. “Came Out Swinging”, the opening track on the album, epitomizes this idea. In this song, Soupy alerts the audience to where he currently stands, mentioning how “[he] spent the winter writing songs about getting better” and how he is “getting there.” The subsequent track “Woke Up Older” also reflects on the frontman’s current state, noting that Soupy and his girlfriend—whom he once referenced in The Upsides’ “Hey Thanks”—are no longer in a relationship. Lastly, “Local Man Ruins Everything” serves as the album’s last look back at The Upsides. Ultimately, it relays to listeners to not “[force] happiness” and “[don't let] sadness win.” Afterwards, Suburbia re-shifts its focus on the past and onto the present. The following tracks vary in sentiments, ranging from scathing (“Suburbia” and “You Made Me A Patron Saint”) to nostalgic (“Coffee Eyes” and “I’ve Given All”). Ultimately, “And Now I’m Nothing” shows Campbell accepting the status quo, instead shifting his sights to future.
Musically, Suburbia demonstrates growth, while retaining the band’s pop-punk roots. In the aforementioned “Came Out Swinging,” the track contains the bravado prevalent in The Upsides while showing maturation by integrating a soft sounding bridge in order to juxtapose the song’s otherwise loud and abrasive pop-punk style. Additionally, “Local Man” features an interlude that is stylistically akin to 90’s emo. Also, throughout the album, the band has shown an improved ability to write stronger hooks. Compared to The Upsides, the tracks of Suburbia should make a lasting impression even after one listen. But above all, The Wonder Years’ versatility in songwriting featured in Suburbia proves to be one of its strengths. The Upsides, in all its glory, was comprised mostly of up-tempo numbers. In contrast, the band experiments with mid-tempo numbers and even an acoustic one (“I’ve Given You All”) in Suburbia. In fact, the album’s best track, “Hoodie Weather,” encapsulates the band’s best elements, including Campbell’s expressive and emotive vocal style, quality lyrics and lasting hooks. But of all its redeeming qualities, the strength of “Hoodie Weather” lies in its instrumentation; the music sets an ambience that accentuates the sentiments expressed by Campbell through his lyrics and vocals.
From 1970s onwards, the punk scene—whose values were subsequently assimilated into pop-punk—was built upon creating a community that was separate from mainstream society. While this fervent desire to remain detached from the mainstream created problems of its own, punk ultimately served as a haven for the downtrodden and marginalized. With their relatable themes, The Wonder Years prove that this aspect of punk is still alive and well. The Upsides has garnered the band a devout following due to its relatable themes, and Suburbia should prove to have a similar effect. Which album is better is contingent on how one relates to the records’ lyrical themes.
An underlying sentiment within Suburbia is Campbell’s desire make a lasting impression, as noted by passing references to being this generation’s Allen Ginsberg, Morgan Spurlock and The Outsiders. However, with their latest outputs, The Wonder Years have guaranteed that they will not be lost in the pages of history. They may not be have the legacy or recognition of Ginsberg but they have carved out their own niche by which they will be remembered. Ultimately, The Wonder Years have proven that they are the pop-punk band of this generation.
2. Woke Up Older
3. Local Man Ruins Everything
5. My Life As A Pigeon
6. Summers In PA
7. I Won't Say The Lord's Prayer
8. Coffee Eyes
9. i've Given You All
10. Don't Let Me Cave In
11. You Made Me Want To Be A Saint
12. Hoodie Weather
13. And Now I'm Nothing
The Wonder Years are 6 dudes from the Keystone State that play their own brand of realist Pop Punk. Since 2006 they have released a split EP with Bangarang!, a full length entitled "Get Stoked On It!," a 7" named "Won't Be Pathetic Forever," and a split 7" with All or Nothing called "Distances," along with 2 tour EP's. The band's sophomore full length "The Upsides" was released on January 26th, 2010 and will be Re-released in September/October on Hopeless Records, who they have recently signed to. ... read more