It’s all come to this. After fighting their own battles with depression, anxiety and frustration with the world around them, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s own pop-punk sextet The Wonder Years has not only won the battle… they’ve won the war as well.
Their victory speech comes in the form of their fourth studio album The Greatest Generation. Through thirteen tracks of raw, yet smoothly polished emotion, the act pushes their realist brand of pop-punk past the point of no return – a place that helps them get past the staple of being limited by their genre. The record is a masterfully crafted work of art that puts the band well above their genre counterparts, solely by continuing to do what they do best, and redefining to the point of progression. Frankly put: The Greatest Generation is everything you’d ever want in a Wonder Years record, with a few curveballs that you end up wanting even more.
After fans of the band’s third album Suburbia: I’ve Given You All & Now I’m Nothing were left happily polarized by the mature direction the group had taken, the band knew they’d have to up the ante for their next album, both in sound and lyrical content. It’s for this reason that The Greatest Generation is the largest progression that the band has produced in their already impressive discography. Down-tempo opener “There, There” is a perfect example of this. In just two and a half minutes, the listener is introduced to an entirely new side of The Wonder Years – established in their sound and comfortable with their surroundings. Lead singer Dan Campbell cuts out the urgency-driven lyricism that comes with the typical Wonder Years track and makes it completely relevant for anyone listening. He belts “I’m sorry I don’t laugh at the right times/ Is this what it feels like with my wings clipped? / I’m awkward and nervous / I’m awkward and nervous.” Anxiety-ridden and intelligible as ever, Campbell remains true to the standards he’s set with the band’s previous releases, and helps create one of their best songs to date – and we’re only one track in.
The Wonder Years is well-known for providing the public with their own brand of pop-punk that’s equal parts poignancy, passion, aggression and melody – and they continue to showcase what they do best on The Greatest Generation. Three tracks were released weeks before the full record was leaked last week, all of which did an excellent job of defining the band’s enhanced sound and emotional impact. “Passing Through a Screen Door” specifically is the best of the three singles, flaunting a fluid timeline of lyrics as well as a passing glance at their former song “Me vs. the Highway” in the process. “Dismantling Summer” is another winner as far as lyrics are concerned, as Campbell explores the emotional toll of his grandfather’s life-threatening illness, making for some of his most personal lyrics to date.
While the singles were a great way of getting to understand where The Wonder Years currently stand, it’s the moments on The Greatest Generation that you don’t see coming that make it a well-crafted collection of music. “The Devil in My Bloodstream” is the best example of this, by far. What starts off as a solemn piano-heavy number – excellently orchestrated by guitarist/keyboardist Nicholas Steinborn – later explodes into a passion-drenched reflection of the Industrial Revolution and its impact on the 20th century. Additionally, there’s also some stellar vocal work provided by the always great Laura Stevenson, an excellent contrast to Campbell’s raspy tenor.
Another moment of pure ingenuity is found in “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral,” the mammoth seven-minute closer that helps to bring a lot of the ideas expressed throughout The Greatest Generation full circle. A majority of the tracks make reappearances around the three-minute mark, highlighting some of the album’s best one-liners and moments which I’m sure will be reveled for years to come. The final lines of the song are some of the best the band has given the public: “There’s no triumph waiting/ There’s no sunset to ride off in/ We all want to be great men and there’s nothing romantic about it/ I just want to know that I did all I could with what I was given.” Pure poetry.
There is one minor problem with the record as a whole (emphasis on the minor). While “Devil” and “Funeral” are brilliant on their own merits as some of the best material the band has released to date, a bulk of the album is filled with the same distorted guitar work, powerful percussion and poignant lyricism we’ve seen on The Upsides and Suburbia, only with a fresh coat of paint in the form of excellent production. For what’s expected of the group, most of the new tracks are home runs. “We Could Die Like This” and “Cul-de-sacs” specifically feature massive hooks and catchy riffs to satisfy anyone who thought the pop-punk genre was starting to grow stale. However, some of the album’s tracks caught in the middle like “Teenage Parents” and “Chaser” failed to catch my attention in terms of breaking new ground. While certainly not mediocre by any means, the pair come up short when compared to the impact the rest of the album had. Regardless, even two sour grapes aren’t enough to spoil the bunch – a rare quality that The Greatest Generation possesses that makes me believe it’ll stand the test of time.
If I were a member of The Wonder Years, I’d be immensely proud of what The Greatest Generation accomplishes. In this record, they simultaneously close out a trilogy about growing up, showcase what they have to bring to the table with future records, enhance their sound and continue to establish why they’re a force to be reckoned with in the pop-punk music scene. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’ll be one of the best records of 2013 when all is said and done. It won’t be too long before The Wonder Years becomes a household name within the alternative music community, stacked up against titans like Taking Back Sunday and Motion City Soundtrack, continuing to fight for your fandom. Regardless of how The Greatest Generation is perceived by the band’s core fan base, there’s one undeniable fact: The Wonder Years are here to stay – and they’re not leaving without a fight.
Check Out: “The Devil in My Bloodstream,” “I Just Want to Sell Out My Funeral,” “There, There”
For Those Who Rock:
The Early November’s The Mechanic
Motion City Soundtrack’s My Dinosaur Life
The Swellers’ Good for Me