The Wonder Years’ new album is called Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing, a line partially lifted from Allen Ginsberg’s 1956 poem, America. If you think that’s a somewhat heady subject for a typical pop-punk band to be tackling, odds are you aren't alone. But the Wonder Years are anything but a typical pop-punk band, even if they may have began as one and largely functioned as one up until the release of 2010’s excellent The Upsides. That record saw the band grow immensely more comfortable in their own skin lyrically, offering quite a bit of introspection, intelligence and social consciousness to a genre that often lacks all three of those attributes, and all without sacrificing the fun, relatability or accessibility that makes pop-punk enjoyable. Suburbia expands on those notions, showcases some subtle-but-needed musical growth, and finds the Wonder Years at the top of their game in virtually all aspects.
“Came Out Swinging” surely lives up to its name. It’s a driving, anthemic opener with a huge chorus and some subtly neat tempo changes, assets the Wonder Years utilize early and often on Suburbia. Steve Evetts’ retrofitted production is immediately apparent: These songs sound warm and timeless, which shouldn't be a surprise coming from the guy that recorded Jersey’s Best Dancers and Through Bring Cool, but it serves the songs here rather perfectly.
Also immediately apparent are the strides vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell has taken. “Woke Up Older”, besides being a cleverly introspective song about aging, showcases Campbell’s improvements behind the mic. Virtually gone are the more nasally inflections that made The Upsides a difficult sell for a lot of folks, replaced with a more straightforward but still identifiable yell. It’s raw, it’s passionate, and it fits the collective vibe of these songs quite well.
Beyond that, catchiness abounds throughout Suburbia. “Local Man Ruins Everything” and “My Life as a Pigeon” are both built on memorable choruses, with the former incorporating some nice leads as well as some well-placed gang vocals (because what is new-school pop-punk without gang vocals?), while the latter is a bit bouncier and traditional in its execution.
Suburbia stumbles ever so slightly in its midsection. “Summers in PA” is an enjoyable enough track, but lyrically it’s not up to par with the rest of the material here. Conversely, the anti-religion song that follows it in “I Won’t Say the Lord’s Prayer” is a bit too on-the-nose to convey a poignant message. Though they’re not complete duds, there’s no question that these two songs could've used some more tweaking.
Luckily, things pick back up rather quickly with “Coffee Eyes” and “Don’t Let Me Cave In”, the album’s two strongest tracks. “Coffee” is aggressive and personal, but never alienating, and the chorus is particularly strong. “Cave” uses a similar attack but never sacrifices the melody, even as Campbell’s vocals become more abrasive than anything else on the album.
Also worth mentioning are the three tracks that make up this album’s title. “Surburbia”, “I've Given You All” and “And Now I’m Nothing” (tracks 4, 9 and 13, respectively) offer a sonic break from the action, as it were, and the Wonder Years do an admirable job of maintaining interest, which of course is helped by Campbell’s stark lyrical content that paints a less-than-positive outlook on past experiences. “Nothing” runs a little long at five minutes, but it’s a mostly successful experiment into poppier, less aggressive material. While certainly not a notion the band should take to heavier task on their next release, it’s a fitting end to a sprawling, engrossing album in Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing that further cements the Wonder Years as standard bearers in modern pop-punk.