The Wonder Years - No Closer To Heaven (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

The Wonder Years

No Closer To Heaven (2015)

Hopeless


Dan “Soupy” Campbell delivers his heartfelt sermon on every record The Wonder Years put out and in every concert they play. Each time, he sounds surer of himself even when life puts more difficult obstacles in his way. On No Closer To Heaven, The Wonder Years sound stronger but more somber than ever, reflecting heavily on life and death.

“Brothers &” and “Cardinals” set the tone for No Closer To Heaven, its darker nature and its reoccurring theme of “we’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers.” For the band, it represents a new sense of responsibility to their families, their fans, and themselves. It also acts as a memorial to Mike Pellone, their fallen friend who plays a crucial part in these songs.

Lyrically, The Wonder Years’s releases have been incredibly personal, meditating on Campbell’s life while keeping it plenty applicable to those of his devoted followers. He is older now, wiser, and the layers are more than skin deep. Death weighs heavily on him. A younger Campbell would openly admit to sadness, but his No Closer To Heaven version is constantly challenging himself to be better even in the darkest of times. He speaks openly and honestly on “A Song For Patsy Cline,” “I think I’m growing into someone you can trust” but only if he “can manage not to fuck this up.” It’s reminiscent of “Came Out Swinging” where he was “writing songs about getting better.” He’s getting there. Still, “My airbag light’s been on for weeks and I can feel it mock me” is chillingly straightforward.

“Mature” is a four-letter word in the punk community, but one that aptly applies to The Wonder Years's career, a band sometimes too aware for their own good. Maintaining producer Steve Evetts pays off, keeping them rooted in their past but with plenty of growing room. No longer held to the youth-centric trilogy of their last albums, the loosened constraints allow them to do something more politically charged like the Jason Aalon Butler featuring “Stained Glass Ceilings.” The song conveys their disgust for society pushing guns, pills or anything else on the youth of the world and labeling it as “help.” In a recent interview with Fuse, Campbell said of the record, “It's a little bit softer, it's a little bit louder, it's a little bit faster, it's a little bit slower. It moves out every way.” Boy was he right, and no track shows that more than “Cigarettes and Saints." With its extended outro by Nick Steinborn and Casey Cavaliere’s guitars and Campbell’s rawest vocals to date, the song stretches the band's comfort zone and they're better for it. Here especially, Mike Kennedy flaunts his already strong, but now tighter, grip on the kit, clearly enjoying himself while staying true to the song.

No Closer To Heaven ends with the acoustic title track. It’s simple and Campbell sounds like a man who’s tired after giving all he has. He's treading water but perseveres because hope still exists. It has to. The Wonder Years will always be a band that is honest with us. That don’t hide how hard life can get. But "Never give up" is The Wonder Years's mantra, and why they've gotten this far.