Vocalist Dan Campbell struggles with death, depression, and purpose in the band’s fifth full-length album No Closer To Heaven.

The infatuation that The Wonder Years vocalist Dan “Soupy” Campbell has with literature is clear. With song titles like “You’re Not Salinger, Get Over It” and the vivid storytelling he’s employed throughout the band’s existence, Campbell has often sounded like a novelist tasked with writing pop-punk songs, rather than a pop-punk songwriter trying to incorporate literary themes into rhythm guitar-driven choruses.

Those themes, however, have never been more readily present, nor more carefully executed, than they are on No Closer To Heaven, the Philadelphia-based band’s fifth full-length album. Like the four records that have come before it, No Closer To Heaven showcases rawness and vulnerability in Campbell’s songwriting in addition to the album’s stunning, creative drum work and hard, driving guitars. The trick is, on the newest album, you have to dig a little bit to find it.

The perfect example of this is “Cardinals,” the album’s second track and first single. It begins with soft vocals singing about a bird who crashes into a window and dies, before Campbell announces he’s going to give it a proper funeral because he knows the bird died chasing a “better life” on the other side of the glass. After laying out this metaphor at the beginning, the song carries into a soaring chorus that will remind listeners of the refrains that made every song on 2013’s The Greatest Generation so instantly gripping, with Campbell desperately shouting the lyrics: “I know the devil you’ve been fighting with/ I swear I’ll never let you down again.”

It’s a perfect preview for the rest of the record because of the way it bridges the gap between The Greatest Generation and No Closer To Heaven. It gives listeners a sound similar to the former while introducing subject material of the latter. Much of the record chronicles Soupy’s struggle to work through the losses he’s faced in his life — specifically, the loss of a high school friend to a coma and a friend of the band named Mike Pelone, who died from a drug overdose several years ago.

Pelone pops up in multiple places on the record — the most sobering of which being “Cigarettes and Saints,” which starts with Soupy fighting with his distaste for religion while longing for a proper way to honor his friend. This struggle gives way to the line: “I’m sure there ain’t a heaven, but that don’t mean I don’t like to picture you there.” The track as a whole is just as likely to give you chills the hundredth time you listen to it as it is the first time.

{{tncms-asset app="editorial" id="0c3c539e-5025-11e5-aa03-13867083868c"}}

“Thanks For The Ride,” meanwhile, is a much more upbeat, “where would you be today?” kind of song that wouldn’t sound out of place on The Wonder Years’ The Upsides album. The song honors the friend who died during a coma during high school.

The rest of the album takes a much more metaphoric turn. The record features two songs named for early 20th century pop culture figures who met tragic deaths, Patsy Cline and Ernest Hemingway. Both of these songs deal with the narrator struggling to find his purpose and wanting to leave the world feeling like he’s made an impact on something. “A Song For Patsy Cline” may be the best song on the whole record, employing a late ‘90s/early 2000s alternative feel that the band has never taken on before.

Not everything on the record has a negative tone, however. “You In January” is probably the most uplifting love song the band has ever made, while “Palm Reader” shows that the narrator is accepting that despite the ugliness he’s seen from the world, he knows he himself can make it because of the way he was raised and what he believes in.

Death, depression and purpose in the world are all common themes to the rest of The Wonder Years’ catalog, but what’s different this time around is the way they’re discussed. On previous albums, Soupy had an incredible talent for saying so much with so few words. Lyrics like “If I’m in an airport and you’re in a hospital bed, what kind of man does that make me?” and “I just want to sell out my funeral/I just want to be enough for everyone” were lyrics that were so emotionally driven and straightforward, they became that much easier for the listener to cling onto.

{{tncms-asset app="editorial" id="b309d180-5852-11e5-ae3e-c39e8370f826"}}

On No Closer To Heaven, there aren’t as many of those singalong, heart-on-your-sleeve choruses. Rather, it takes an entire song — and in some cases, the entire album — to get to the narrator's main point across. On “I Wanted So Badly To Be Brave,” the context of the title message is slowly revealed to the listener, who hears the narrator marveling at how courageous his childhood friend was first in dealing with make-believe enemies in their backyard, then in dealing with his abusive parents.

The record isn’t The Greatest Generation. It was never supposed to be. It comes along with a different message, a different set of rules and a different sound. Even if you don’t think it’s the band’s best record they’ve ever done — and the first time you listen, you won’t — that doesn’t mean you won’t change your mind. The thing about this record is that you uncover a new story each time you hear it. You find a new verse that wraps you up like a blanket in a cold room, or a line that hits you differently than it had before, and makes you restart the whole song over again.

Like all of the best books, No Closer To Heaven will be a different album every time you hear it. And that is what makes it, and this band, so special.

Rating: 5/5



Comments powered by Disqus