It would be a massive understatement to say that Philly pop-punk flagbearers The Wonder Years have come a long way since their debut LP. Get Stoked On It! had all the makings of a scene cliched in humming synths, heart-on-sleeve lyricism and a heaping handful of pop culture references from the song titles to the pretty rough artwork. But every band has to start somewhere – and for as far as this band has come in what now amounts to four full-lengths, it is with a bit of nostalgia and a reasonable amount of knowledge of how the band has grown that I can admit The Wonder Years didn’t have the best start to their career.
An opener like “Keystone State Dude-Core” would give you the idea that this is a punk rock album. And while it is very much punk-inspired, the not quite refined edge of the band was still in the process of balancing itself out amongst Star Wars and Kool-Aid Man. The vocals and lyricism of Dan Campbell are a particularly polarizing spot for the band on this album, as his almost overly personal stories and rather unimaginative injections of said references tend to fall pretty flat. I would say for as much as he kind of missed on this record, it shows even more how much he has matured on both sides of the scale.
Musically, the album suffers a similar fate. Weighed down by an almost fatal amount of post-teenage identification schemes via stories of moshing, pirates and zombies, the pop-punk lean of the record is pretty run-of-the-mill save for the energetic and inspired sections here and there. Granted, the album is arguably book-ended by its best cuts, “Keystone” and “When Keeping It Real Goes Wrong,” but the middle of the bulk isn’t completely void of a hit or two amongst the rest. It almost feels like it would have been better as an EP, but I don’t hesitate to suggest that getting such kinks out of the system made The Upsides even better. But more on that later.
Get Stoked On It! is not your typical story of fandom resided in the debut of a young, spunky group of dudes who changed their sound into something else entirely over the course of a few records. The Wonder Years are, and have always been, a pop-punk band at heart. But to look back and say that they started off on a kind of bad note isn’t unfair in the slightest – you can hear how much better they’ve gotten at their craft even in the splits and EPs that they’ve done since then. This is a debut marred with some growing pains, and it is sincerely not much more than that – though if you’re just managing to find out about The Wonder Years, it wouldn’t hurt to at least give it one spin.