Sometimes a band comes along that seems to soundtrack your life. It seems like every release speaks to your soul in some uncanny way, like each song was written just for you. This is not about one of those bands. The Wonder Years have this uncanny habit of releasing great albums about two years before I need them. 2011’s Suburbia, I’ve Given You All And Now I’m Nothing was a fantastic album when it came out but a year later when I was in Norman, Oklahoma in limbo between finishing college and eventually heading to grad school in Dallas, “Came Out Swinging” and its sentiment on spending time as a ghost in places that used to be familiar struck a chord with me in a way it hadn’t previously.
Likewise 2013’s The Greatest Generation was probably in my top 3 albums of that year based on its near-perfect execution of everything I love about pop-punk. From catchy hooks to huge riffs and Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s earnest lyrics about growing up and trying to figure yourself out, I loved everything that album had to offer. And a couple weeks ago I actively avoided it because I turned 26, the same age as the narrator on “Passing Through A Screen Door,” and I didn’t want to deal with the narrator’s ruminations on whether or not they had been left behind by their peers as I tried to establish myself in a new place and figure out what it mean to be myself as everything changed around me. These albums were like sleeper cells, waiting to be awoken when the time was right to reach into my very being and say “Okay, here’s where we are now. What’s next?”
The Wonder Years released another album last Friday, No Closer To Heaven, and it’s all I’ve listened to since then. The band trades in their explorations of growing up and being stuck in suburbia for an album-length deep dive into loss. The first single, “Cardinals” opens with a funeral for a bird who crashed into a window, something that Campbell has said is meant to represent crashing into our own limitations as humans. This death of potential is what drives the album forward and the chorus’s cry of “If you call me back or let me in, I swear I’ll never let you down again” echos a longing to make things right far beyond when it’s possible. The repeated chant at the end (that reappears at the end of “Cigarettes and Saints,” about the loss of one of Soupy’s friends to overdose) “We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers” is heartbreaking, seeing this desire to save those we care about and wondering if we can amount to anything if we can’t help those closest to us.
The whole album is rich with such imagery. “A Song for Ernest Hemingway” has one of the most offbeat metaphors for depression that I’ve ever heard but it’s so dang catchy and it’s probably my favorite song on the album. “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then” is a great look at wishing you had been better and trying not to mess things up. “Palm Reader” is another standout. A bombastic riff kicks off the song before going into a soaring chorus about growing into someone strong enough to overcome adversity, needing lessons from others to become a better person. The band really clicks on this album. The instrumentals have the right amount of energy to support Soupy’s vocals, and Campbell sings as if he would actually explode if he didn’t get these words out. Every song is so earnest and full of such energy and life that I find myself smashing play every time it stops so it can start up again. I think out of my day yesterday there were probably 3 hours where No Closer to Heaven wasn’t playing.
If the woogy, prescient pattern of The Wonder Years releases continues, I’m going to have to deal with loss in the next couple of years. I can offer no greater compliment to this album than to say I have a soundtrack for understanding that pain and trying to move forward. You can listen to “A Song for Ernest Hemingway” below and be sure to check out the rest of No Closer to Heaven.