The members of PUP are pissed off. Of course they are. They wouldn’t be very punk if they weren’t.
But PUP’s latest effort, Morbid Stuff, is far more than just pissed off. It’s nihilistic. It’s self-loathing. It’s depressing at times. It even juxtaposes organic grocery shopping with a televised nuclear holocaust, all because of a chance encounter with an ex-girlfriend.
By tapping into those emotions, Morbid Stuff — the third album from the Canadian punk four-piece — hones in on millennial angst with a precision that could only come from a group of, well, angsty millennials.
On the title track, which leads off the album, lead singer Stefan Babcock introduces the album’s themes with an introspective declaration: “I was bored as f--- / Sitting around and thinking all this morbid stuff / Like if anyone I’ve slept with is dead, and I got stuck / On death and dying and obsessive thoughts that won’t let up.”
There are countless sound bites just like that one, each of which captures the macabre sense of fun that is the true essence of both PUP and Morbid Stuff. Take the lead single, “Kids.” It features outrageously symbolic lyrics after the protagonist’s girlfriend complains, “Your little songs are getting way too literal / How about some goddamn subtlety for a change?” And the ironic response comes back: “She said, ‘I feel like I've come untethered / In a room without walls / I'm drifting on the dark and empty sea of nothing.’”
Other songs on Morbid Stuff dive deep into the often-contentious childhood relationship between brothers and sisters (“Sibling Rivalry”), depressive hallucinations (the incredible “Bloody Mary, Kate and Ashley”), trying to fall out of love (concluding track “City”) or the tortures of making music (frenzied, semi-climactic centerpiece “Full Blown Meltdown”).
Post-breakup loneliness is a common theme, as it was on PUP and The Dream Is Over. But no song in the band’s catalogue has captured the art of heartache better than “See You at Your Funeral,” which is certainly one of the group’s finest works to date.
Just like Green Day’s classic “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” — which should never be played at another high school graduation — “See You at Your Funeral” is a sullen breakup song that initially sounds like the recently dumped ex-boyfriend has moved on. “I hope you're doing fine on your own,” PUP’s members belt out in the infectious chorus.
That’s a sarcastic wish, though, because the ex-boyfriend’s definitely not doing fine. He’s depressed, living “in a hell of (his) own creation,” meditating and eating vegan food in an attempt to get over his ex.
Then he runs into her in the produce aisle. Everyone knows what it’s like to run into your ex. Over pulsating drums, he screams, “But you know me, I've always been a little masochistic” and spirals out of control. He winds up wishing never to see her again, hoping to see her at the titular funeral and praying for an apocalypse. “I hope the world explodes / I hope that we all die / We can watch the highlights in hell / I hope they're televised,” Babcock screams as the song flies back into its anthemic chorus.
Little storylines like that turn Morbid Stuff into a twisted, nihilistic little sitcom, and it’s the expansion of that side of PUP’s songwriting that makes the record the band’s most accomplished, most coherent and most enjoyable.
That’s what makes PUP so great. The songs are messed up, sure, and they’re pretty dark at times. But they’re fun, they’re energetic and, once you know the words, they’re impossible not to scream along to until you’re gasping for air.
In fact, just about every second of Morbid Stuff’s 11-track, 36-minute runtime crashes onto the eardrums. The pounding drums and power chords are so constant that the sparse moments of relative calm — the outro of “Morbid Stuff,” the lead-in to “Scorpion Hill,” the first two-thirds of “City” — are like taking deep breaths, even if you’ve somehow managed to resist the itch to belt out the choruses in harmony with the band.
It’s easy to think of Morbid Stuff as a critique of modern society and dating and people who go vegan after getting dumped. Lyrics that cut deep tend to do that.
But really, it’s just great pop-punk music, written and performed by and for 20- and 30-somethings who hate themselves enough to drink Pabst Blue Ribbon but don’t hate it enough to stop.
Just like Babcock babbles on “Full Blown Meltdown”: “It's just music after all / You shouldn't take it so seriously.”