The Wonder Years, a pop-punk band from Pennsylvania, found themselves face to face with a problem that is quite prominent within the music industry — creating an album that will not only maintain the allegiance of fans, but simultaneously blow all prior albums out of the water.
After The Wonder Years released The Greatest Generation in 2013, critics and fans alike labeled it as an album in a league of its own, unable to be topped by any future work. Standing in the shadow of such a remarkable album may have been a challenge, but the result of that challenge is one of beauty and poignant, heartfelt lyrics.
No Closer to Heaven begins with “Brothers &”, starting the record out with a short, simple tune that relies mostly on the repetition of one singular line: “We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers.” Though simplistic, the opening song effectively sets the mood for the rest of the album.
A couple of songs in, lead vocalist Dan Campbell directs the tone to a much darker place in “A Song for Patsy Cline”, approaching the idea of death with the line, “My airbag light’s been on for weeks.” By the fourth song, the pace of the album picks up dramatically, transitioning from slow to upbeat and intense. “A Song for Ernest Hemingway”, the seventh song on the album, starts off using old-fashioned-sounding music to introduce the lyrics of the song. The song uses Hemingway as a way to relate the author’s struggles to the rest of the world.
The opening songs of the album evaporated all hope of The Wonder Years maintaining the pop-punk vibe that they so effortlessly provided in past albums, but “Thanks for the Ride” instilled that hope once again. The song is filled with the wailing vocals that the pop-punk genre is so fond of, combined with lyrics that pull on the heartstrings of anyone that has ever had to deal with a breakup. The combination of those components make for an extremely emotion-fueled melody.
As the album progresses, unexpected components pop up in many of the songs. In “Stained Glass Ceilings”, the lyrics begin soft, then slowly build into the middle of song, where there’s a break in the lyrics. The second half of the song is much different than the first; the lyrics are growled out, filled with frustration and anger.
“I Wanted So Badly to be Brave” is memorable because of lyrics that not only sound good, but teach a lesson. Songs such as this one come from the songwriter’s own experience, making the content much more meaningful. The lyricism was the defining factor of this song.
Like The Greatest Generation, the last song on No Closer to Heaven places the album on an entirely new level. “No Closer to Heaven” is comprised of a slow, soft tempo and gentle guitar chords that caress the listener, rather than violently shaking them and telling them how to feel. The lyrics sum up an underlying idea that was present throughout the album — the idea that being a good person and making a change in the world can feel futile in a world filled with evil. One specific line strikes a chord and expresses the helplessness felt in the song: “In a world I can’t fix, with a hammer in my grip, I’m no closer to heaven.”
No Closer to Heaven reflects a much more somber tone than past albums, possibly marking a shift in The Wonder Years’ direction. There was another groundbreaking change; instead of wailing about escaping their hometowns and living in the suburbs like many pop-punk albums do, No Closer to Heaven was much more expansive. It touched on things outside of the suffocating bubble of suburbia. The combination of No Closer to Heaven’s talented lyricism and unique approach to pop-punk might not have surpassed The Greatest Generation, but it’s certainly a close second.
Contact CU Independent News Staff Noelle Coultrip at Noelle.Coultrip@colorado.edu