The Wonder Years
Times are tough. You don’t have to be living in the most dangerous neighborhood or on the most infertile soil to struggle. Struggling for other groups may not be physical, rather social or mental. Society tends to command us (the middle class) to live and act a certain way, and it hurts, the restriction of freedom, the absence of individuality. The process of finding a purpose in life also represents conflict in life. It’s a long and dark path to self-realization. That’s why there is a band like The Wonder Years to put those feelings that resulted from struggling into music.
The Wonder Years are a six-piece pop-punk outfit from Lansdale Pennsylvania, and have released 4 full-length albums, including The Greatest Generation. They started out as a comedic joke, writing songs about ninjas and “moshercising” on their debut Get Stoked on It, but evolved quickly into a more serious band on their next albums (The Upsides and Suburbia), albums that featured more mature song structuring and brutally honest lyrics. These lyrics focused on the pains of traveling down the path of self-discovery, and watching things exit life just as quickly as they entered. These were lyrics that confronted tribulations, and cathartically described them.
This new sound gained them many die-hard fans who could relate to the lyrical material, and consequentially more positive press. The only general complaint of The Wonder Years was that frontman Dan Campbell tended to have a whiny voice, reminiscent of so many generic pop punk or emo bands that faded into oblivion due to their proclivity to annoy listeners. However, after hearing this record, that problem has clearly been solved.
Instead, Campbell demonstrates more vocal versatility. He can execute a soft and vulnerable whisper, exhibited in the opening track, “There, There,” an apology for awkward behavior. This song is a great example of how Campbell can lower the volume to convey a different kind of frustration, a frustration resulted from sadness. However, he can absolutely roar all of his insecurities into the listener’s ears, evident in the second half of “The Devil in my Bloodstream.” This song presents a theme of understanding the past and the frustration associated with the inability to recreate it.
Campbell’s voice does a great job of staying dynamic, and focuses the listener on the album’s messages and morals: The Greatest Generation is a concept album that deals with the pressure that this generation faces to be better than the last, and also the generally haphazard wandering through life that some people face. It also delves into the concept of poverty (“Teenage Parents”) and failure, failure being a motif lyrically on one of the album’s standout tracks, “Passing Through a Screen Door.” This song encapsulates what The Wonder Years stands for, by ventilating emotions that grasp the listener, and displaying strong musicianship.
The musicianship, moreover, has greatly improved, from the more mature song structuring to the aurally pleasing chord progressions. These are present in every song, yet every new chord or note comes as a surprise. The keyboards are not as present in this album as past works, but they are more efficient and even less cheesy. The guitars are louder and crunchier, serving as a beacon of passion as well as the vocals; however, when the distortion is turned off, the axe-wielders meld emotional masterpieces. The drums as fast and abrasive, putting the punk back in pop-punk, and the bass surprises long-time fans of The Wonder Years, since more creative riffs are crafted and implemented in each track. The production is great, ensuring that every instrument sounds clean, but not robotic. Every instrument is mixed well, since they are all heard clearly.
The only downside of this album is the incredibly cheesy acoustic track “Madelyn,” in which Campbell returns to using his whiny prepubescent New-Found-Glory-worship-pansy vocals, simply put. Other than that, this is a great musical experience, definitely a release that should not be overlooked by a fan of pop-punk or a non-believer of the genre, since this is not just an amalgamation of pretty power chords put together. This is something much more than some teenage suburban diary entry. This is the everyman’s elegy, and demonstrates that music was made for passion.
PRETTY NEAT MUSIC
BEST TRACKS: There, There; Passing Through a Screen Door, I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral
LEAST FAVORITE TRACK: Madelyn