Review Summary: It's a testament to The Wonder Years' abilities that The Greatest Generation can be so great but still disappointing.
Understandably, my expectations for this album were sky high. 2011’s Suburbia is my favourite all-time album and 2010’s The Upsides was superb too. The band all but invited comparisons to these masterpieces when they labelled The Greatest Generation as the finale of a trilogy. It’s a dip in quality and that’s The Wonder Years’ fault in the best possible way; that TGG can be so great but still disappointing is a testament to their abilities.
Despite their already polished sound, the band still strives to improve. Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell’s lyrics are the most poignant and striking they’ve ever been. In “Passing Through A Screen Door” he confesses, “While my cousins go to bed with their wives, I feel like I’ve fallen behind”, and later in “Dismantling Summer” he’s demanding an answer, “If I’m in an airport and you’re in a hospital bed, well then what kind of man that make me?” The messages on The Greatest Generation succeed at being personal yet relatable, being palpable yet also beautiful in metaphor.
Soupy’s emotionally multifaceted vocals have improved from being occasionally nasal/whiny to now sounding consistently triumphant (there’s proof in the soaring chorus to “Teenage Parents”). Musicianship is still strong; the bass drum pounds in the bridge of “There, There” and the entry of the band halfway through “The Devil In My Bloodstream” both induce chills. In these two songs, The Wonder Years master mid-tempo pop-punk-power-balladry and it’s a testament to their ability to be versatile within their refined sound.
The shortcoming of the album is its dip in quality in the second half. “Chaser” is mediocrity masked by a killer hook, “Madelyn” feels like an out-of-place retread of The Upsides’ “Hey Thanks” and “An American Religion (FSF) is crisp, but instantly forgettable. I've seen the ambitious 7-minute closer, “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral”, described as 'an epic', but with each consecutive listen it drags longer, and the use of earlier songs in the outro begins to feel like a gimmick. These tracks come across as filler, and even great filler is filler nonetheless.
With The Greatest Generation, the band’s made some significant general advancements, and they have an excellent album to show for it. It’s just a shame that The Wonder Years have focused so much on (and succeeded in) improving their overall sound that they’ve lost their ability to make each individual song as amazing as the last.