Review Summary: Touching on issues from death of a friend to religion, Suburbia is incredibly ambitious and rarely disappoints.
The Wonder Years's highly anticipated third studio album Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing is nothing short of an ambitious pop-punk tour de force. Littered with references to The Upsides and Allen Ginsberg's America, Suburbia reflects on the band's past and looks towards the future. It shows a surprising maturity for a pop-punk band and deals with many complex feelings and situations.
It took me a good four or five complete listens to really begin to appreciate the beauty of this album. Where The Upsides could have been seen as a lamentation of the end of adolescence, Suburbia deals intimately with the loss and realities of the middle 20s. Touching on issues from death to religion, Suburbia is incredibly ambitious and rarely disappoints.
Starting forcefully with "Came Out Swinging," The Wonder Years drop right into a powerful opening set of songs, relentlessly pounding out beautiful melodies and choruses to yell along to. "Came Out Swinging" addresses the loneliness and difficulties of touring and being away from home. As Dan "Soupy" Campbell yells, "I spent this year as a ghost and I'm not sure where home is anymore," it's very easy to reflect one one's own life and empathize with the band. The song ends with what's bound to be a perennial crowd favorite, "I came out swinging from a South Philly basement / Caked in stale beer and sweat under half-lit fluorescents / I spent the winter writing songs about getting better / And if I'm being honest, I'm getting there." This song is perfectly suited to a small club with hundreds of rabid fans screaming and jumping together with the band.
This album is also notable for capturing the essence of suburban angst among today's youth. As cliché as it is, anyone who's lived in a suburb for an extended amount of time knows how draining it can be. "Coffee Eyes" describes a local diner that Soupy and his friends used to frequent before their lives sent them in new directions. He laments, "So you can try to forget or say it's the past / You know you'll always end up right back where you left," which perfectly captures the feeling of wanting to escape suburbia only to find yourself right back in it when things don't pan out the way you wanted.
The one weak point of the album, in my opinion, is "I Won't Say the Lord's Prayers." While the rest of the album is cohesive in its subjects, this atheistic rant seems out of place. While it isn't necessarily a bad song, (I really enjoyed the "If we're all just Christians or Lions / Then I think I'd rather be on the side with sharper teeth" line), it just seems to kill the flow between "Summers in PA" and "Coffee Eyes," two songs that capture the essence of suburbia particularly well. "Summers in PA" is an ode to summer suburban boredom, especially the lines about Soupy and friends finding themselves at Denny's on a weeknight "...busted, broken and choking down a Grand Slam / I can't think of a better way for the night to end." As I said, "I Won't Say the Lord's Prayers" isn't a bad song, but its subject matter is a departure that just doesn't fit as well as I hoped.
The album closes out with some notably deeper themes, departing from the difficulties of aging to a friend's death in "You Made Me Want to Be a Saint." The song is very fast and upbeat, as Soupy explains, "It was how I know you would want this to be a fast one / And not some cliché ballad." The song's end is heart wrenching, as the band scream "You know the ***ed up part is / I kind of always knew we'd have to write a song about this / You know the ***ed up part is / I had my fingers crossed that it wouldn't be for you, kid." The first thought I had when hearing this song is how much more mature the songwriting is compared to The Upsides. Don't get me wrong, The Upsides is a great album, but in the years between its release and now, it's obvious that life has beaten the band down at times, but they've come out noticeably stronger and more mature as a result.
The album's closing track, "And Now I'm Nothing," is easily my favorite song on this album. It begins with rehashing the same suburban difficulties from earlier, but it quickly shows hope for the future. Soupy starts the song out singing at a normal level, but as he mentions that he's been "spending most of my nights here alone / And that doesn't scare me like it did a year ago," you feel that he's getting his life back together. He gains more force in his vocal delivery and yells that he'll "put my life back together in silence / While writing songs on Molly's guitar." At points in the album, Soupy seems completely worn out by life, particularly towards the start of the album. With the closing lines of the album though, he yells, "I know we've got miles to go / But I'm putting my shoulder to the wheel."
This album is beautiful, start to finish. The production is amazing. Mike Kennedy's drumming is superb, and the bass and guitar are excellent throughout the album. I wouldn't go as far to say Suburbia is perfect, but it's close. Anyone who's grown up in the suburbs can immediately empathize with Soupy's observations and stories about growing up in today's world. This album is to pop-punk what Titus Andronicus's The Monitor was to indie/punk. It's an incredibly personal album that will shape the course of its genre for years to come. This album is bound to be a lot more than just an album for kids and young adults all over the world, and to me, that's what truly makes it a classic.