I’m not sad anymore.
They were the opening words to a song, no, an album that would propel the somewhat buzzing realist pop-punks from maybes to somebodies. The Wonder Years had made something of a dent in the pop-punk scene with the fickle but carefree Get Stoked On It!, but this was a different record entirely. Though the pop culture references were still there, this felt like a totally different band. Engulfed in stories of self-discovery, overcoming heartbreak and realizing how much what you have around you can matter, The Upsides had a ton of heart and enough emotional appeal both musically and lyrically to cement itself as a standout, both in the band’s discography and the budding genre. We can talk about all the steps these guys have taken in the following two records as musicians, but The Upsides is open, honest and just damn catchy from front to back. For as low as they sounded on the previous record, The Wonder Years embraced their strengths and simply made what could still be considered among the best pop-punk records to be written to date.
As far as emotionally tugging lyrics go, The Upsides is a vast wealth of post-teenage angst and searching summed up over experiences of love, loss, friendship and finding positivity in a bleak world. Not to repeat a bunch of lines folks reading this are sure to know, but tracks like “Melrose Diner,” “This Party Sucks” and “Dynamite Shovel” resonate in a particularly interesting way to me considering when I was giving this band a second chance on this record. It might depend on the listener, but the difference in delivery and a reasonable sense of maturity on this side of things makes the first-listen mentality of this record a bit different than Stoked – but it leaves a much better lasting impression than Kool-Aid and cereal references in the long run.
Musically, this album swept pop-punk leanings together some pop-rock spunk and fairly straightforward, but strong songwriting to hook you into the record and keep you in tune from front to back. Dynamically, The Upsides balanced itself between blistering punk and sharp melodies without losing the ability to connect in the process. The back and forth of “My Last Semester” creates and resolves tension with ease while seemingly being lyrically familiar for anyone who has been in college, while “All My Friends Are in Bar Bands” swells perfectly as a closer even in the live set. It’s tough to truly nail in words, but even as the album speeds up to its most abrasive spots and slows down to a stripped number in “Hey Thanks,” the sincerity doesn’t waiver – The Wonder Years’ ability to create something honest and musically interesting isn’t lost this time around as the guest spots and references pile up.
To know where this record will stand in the stack of records from this band, well, we’re still a ways away from that. But the impact it had on the pop-punk scene and the resulting recognition it gave the band is definitely worth considering the knowing where this band has come from. It didn’t really start here, but in a way, the serious version of the band, at least in my eyes, started after that first LP. The Upsides might not have turned pop-punk upside down, but it hit the right notes on the way to something that still stands as a grail of sorts to the genre at least as far as the underground is concerned. If you’ve somehow missed this record until now, you’re fucking up.