The Wonder Years – The Greatest Generation
Record Label: Hopeless Records
Release Date: May 14th 2013
For the last few hours, I’ve been sitting in front of my computer with a blank screen, not exactly sure how to start off this review of the new record, The Greatest Generation, by pop-punk band The Wonder Years. A part of me is slightly afraid to review this, because it’s such a “huge” record, words can’t even begin to describe it. If I had to say one thing about it, it would be that this is a record you, the person or group of people reading this, need to listen to for yourself. It’s truly that great, and this is coming from a guy who’s never been a huge fan of the band. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always enjoyed them, ever since 2010’s The Upsides was released, but they never really gripped me in. They were a pop-punk band that’s always kind of been rather generic to me. The Upsides was a record that certainly is enjoyable, but aside from Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s lyrics about not being sad anymore, the record itself really just fell to the wayside for me. 2011’s Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing marked a nice progression for the band, but overall, it still didn’t sway me to become a full fledged fan. Nevertheless, I was quite excited for The Greatest Generation, because that title alone is a very bold claim to make. The same can be said for Fall Out Boy’s new album Save Rock and Roll; that record’s title was very bold, and rather interesting, because after being gone for five years, could they really live up to that claim? When the record was released, the answer was a mix between yes, and no. I digress, though, because my point is that The Wonder Years are making a very shocking claim by saying their generation is the greatest. It is worth noting that these three records are part of a trilogy, so to speak, and The Greatest Generation being the last record in said trilogy. In all honesty, while the fact that it’s a trilogy, it makes sense, but in the end, it’s the overall record itself that is most important. While their last couple records didn’t do very much for me, this is the one that really makes me stop and look at this band. As I write this, it’s been a little over a week since the record’s been released, and they managed to sell almost 20,000 copies in its first week, with myself being one of the people who bought a copy. That’s a big deal for a band like The Wonder Years, and that’s all the more reason to pay attention to them. Another reason why this record is so great to me is just the fact that it’s more than a pop-punk record; there are hints of alternative rock, acoustic, and indie rock. There are a couple of straightforward pop-punk tracks, but most of them are actually very unique and interesting. Of course, what really steals the show here are Soupy’s lyrics. His lyrics have always been great, but his lyrics and his voice have very much improved over the last couple records. Being in a pop-punk band means that having a vocal range is rather nonexistent, but here on this album, his voice gets to roam free, and he actually uses it very well. His lyrics have also improved, and they’re still as hard hitting as they’ve always been. Even despite that, I never quite got into The Wonder Years as other people have. It’s understandable why they’re so popular in the pop-punk genre, but I just never could get into them. So, the real questions of this review are whether or not the band succeed in making their claim of them being in the greatest generation, and whether or not this record is the one that manages to make me a bigger fan of the band than I was prior to listening to it.
The record begins with “There, There,” and it’s a two and a half minute song that’s rather slow. It serves as an intro, if anything. It immediately begins with a slow guitar riff as Dan “Soupy” Campell sings, “You're just trying to read but I'm always standing in your light. / You're just trying to sleep but I always wake you up to apologize.” Campbell’s lyrics have never been stronger, right from the get-go. The somberness of this track makes the opening that much better, frankly. It’s a rather underwhelming track, because it’s so quiet and somber. It’s something that we, the listeners, have not seen very much from this band, so it’s a nice change. That song leads into second track, and first single, “Passing Through a Screen Door,” which crashed down the website Absolutepunk.net’s servers when it first premiered. When I first heard this song, it sounded like average Wonder Years so, but didn’t do much for me, and not that I have heard the album in full, I still feel the same way about it, honestly. It might be that this record clocks in at 48 minutes, so there’s a LOT on this record, but this is one song that just doesn’t do much for me. And if anything, this is one of the only straightforward pop-punk songs on the record. Most of the songs follow an alternative, or indie-rock sound, including third track “We Could Die Like This.” It’s a rather short song, but it’s one-two punch when combined with following track “Dismantling Summer.” This is one of my favorites on the record. It’s a great track, and it also shows that The Wonder Years are more than just a pop-punk band at this point in their career. That’s a point I’ll be making throughout the whole review, because that’s what I love about this record.
There are a couple songs that do pay homage, if you will, to their earlier work, such as fifth track, “The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves.” This track, along with “Passing Through a Screen Door,” are two tracks that definitely sound like they would fit in a prior TWY record. That’s not a bad thing, however. The fact these are a bit more straightforward pop-punk mean that they do know where they came from, and are acknowledging that, as well as keeping some variety on the record. Following track, “The Devil In My Bloodstream” definitely shows off this variety. The first half of the song is another somber affair, but it sets up the song nicely, and the song suddenly explodes into an indie/alternative/pop-punk masterpiece. Ninth track “An American Religion (FSF)” is the complete opposite, as it’s a very energetic and straightforward pop-punk track that’s the shortest track on the record, actually. Following that, tenth track “A Raindance In Traffic” has one of my favorite lyrics on the record, which go, “It feels like 1929 and I'm on the verge of a great collapse today.” I don’t know what it is about that lyric, but wow, it’s absolutely fantastic. Speaking of great lyrics, eleventh track “Madelyn” is full of cutesy little lyrics for a girl named Madelyn, obviously. This song reminds me of the song, “Hey Thanks” on The Upsides, just for how optimistic it is, and how sweet it is. This is a rather slow track that show’s Soupy at his most vulnerable, and it works on every level. Finally, after the energetic “Cul-de-Sac,” the final track “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral” is one of my favorite tracks, if not my favorite track on the record. It’s a seven-minute “epic,” for the last of a better word. It’s split into two songs, actually; the first is a pretty standard TWY song, but it’s still absolutely fantastic. In the middle of the song, Soupy makes a ton of allusions of other songs on the record, including the album’s opener, “There, There,” which is great, because it brings the entire record full circle. This is easily the best song on the record, and it’s the best song The Wonder Years have ever written, in all honesty.
The Wonder Years is a rare example of a pop-punk that are more than just a pop-punk band, and it shows if they can create a record that sells almost 20k copies in its first week, and opens at number 20 on the Billboard charts. That’s a feat that most bands in the genre would kill to achieve, but this is just an indicator that The Wonder Years are not going anywhere. In the beginning of the review, I talked about whether or not The Wonder Years succeed in their claim of being the greatest generation, as the album title suggests. In all honesty, I think that they succeeded wonderfully. While this is certainly one of my favorite records of the year, this is easily the pop-punk record of the year. And not to mention, this is the record that’s finally made me a full fledged fan of The Wonder Years.
fantastic album, just the perfect progression of albums strung together perfectly. after missing 3 opportunities to see them live, I will be finally seeing them on Main Stage at warped in a couple weeks, and I could not be more excited