When Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell told us he wasn’t sad anymore, he didn’t mean it the way we all thought he did. The thing about presenting yourself as a shining beacon of positivity through song, as he did on last year’s ‘The Upsides’, is that sometimes it might not be completely true. ‘I’m not sad anymore’ was never a statement of fact; instead, it was a battle-cry. On the third track of his band’s new record, ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’, he admits that he’s ‘not a self-help book, just a fucked-up kid’, how he ‘had to take his own advice’ - and he did.
In the year that passed between ‘The Upsides’ and the completion of what would become ‘Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing’, he threw his heart and soul into making the best album he could possibly manage, and it’s paid off. He and his band have created what is the best pop-punk album of the year by a country mile. Like its predecessor, it’s a concept album of sorts, concerning itself with the idea of identity, the idea of ‘home’. Even the sleeve of the album itself ties into the theme: ‘If you want to leave, leave. Just make sure you know where you’re going.’
You would hardly believe that this is the same band that once wrote songs called things like, ‘Dude, What Is a Land Pirate?’ - and they know it better than anyone. On penultimate track ‘Hoodie Weather’, Soupy acknowledges that ‘the songs we wrote at 18 seem short-sighted and naive’. They don’t give 2007 debut ‘Get Stoked on It!’ so much as a brief glance in their live shows anymore - but ‘The Upsides’ crops up in a few places on the new record. One of the best things about this album, something that fans will enjoy, is that there are a number of references to material from their second record. ‘Local Man Ruins Everything’, addressing the entire concept of ‘The Upsides’ in one song, is just the tip of the iceberg.
‘Hey Thanks’ shows up in ‘Woke Up Older’, with Soupy once again addressing his relationship with his ex, Jess: ‘I left a note up on your bed that said, ‘Hey, thanks again for everything you did’. Meanwhile, the storming album opener ‘Came Out Swinging’ refers to the creation of the ‘The Upsides’ itself: ‘I spent the winter writing songs about getting better, and if I’m being honest, I’m getting there’. These references are charming in their own way, as Soupy looks back on what he’s already done while still keeping one eye on the future.
This time around, however, it’s not all about his own experiences. ‘I Won’t Say the Lord’s Prayer’ takes aim at blind religious faith (sample lyric: ‘If we’re all just Christians or lions, then I think I’d rather be on the side with sharper teeth’), while ‘Suburbia’ establishes the album context with a comment on the economic downturn and its impact on his hometown: ‘Every business on Main Street collapsed, except Morgan’s mom’s place; the whole town feels dead and I can’t blame it’. As for the breakneck-pace ‘You Made Me Want to Be A Saint’, it’s addressed to an old friend of the band; Mike Pelone and carries a fatalistic tone at odds with its fast tempo: ‘You know, the fucked-up part is I kind of always knew we’d write a song about this; I had my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be for you, kid’.
‘Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing’ is an album that draws inspiration from Allen Ginsberg’s ‘America’ and touches on topics that the band wouldn’t have gone near even two years ago. They’ve evolved even further as musicians, to the point that they’ve almost perfected their brand of ‘realist pop-punk’. The lyrics don’t hold back, and indeed, seem bleak and troubling at times, but ‘And Now I’m Nothing’ finishes the album on a high note, proving that even though The Wonder Years have made an album that deals with knowing one’s place in the world, they know exactly where they’re going.