Review Summary: I've been having some pretty dark thoughts
PUP are a special bunch; I’ve thought so since day one, and I’ll be damned if the equally colorful and sleazy Morbid Stuff
is going to sway me. Even at their most abrasive state, they come across as a group of nerdy, fun-loving guys – ones who just so happen to make loud punk music that puts their peers to shame. The Dream Is Over
was nothing short of a blast; a rough batch of snotty punk that brought us visions of Nintendo, Hawaiian Fruit Punch Kool-Aid and much more. It also wasn’t shy about the band’s dark humor and ability to poke fun at each other in, um, imaginative ways. I can’t think of many albums with such a potent one-two punch as “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” and the relentless “Dvp.” Indeed, the bar was set quite high with their sophomore effort, but PUP are back - as gleefully grim and seductive as ever.
takes all the messy qualities that made PUP standout in the first place – nasally vocals, scathing lyrics, amped-up guitars – and condenses them into a more vibrant experience via the lens of power-pop. Lead single “Kids” and the title track stand out immediately with some of the most addicting hooks of the band’s career. The bouncy, dare I even say cute
guitar riff of “Kids” will be stubbornly ingrained in your head in no time. It may be their most accessible offering, but in no way have PUP lost their edge. As evident in “Free at Last” – a shout-along track where the band received over 250 submissions to be included in their music video – PUP are still ambitious, loud, and a little batshit crazy. The repeated chant of “Just ’cause you’re sad again/it doesn’t make you special at all!” is just the kind of sarcastic, self-aware line that you’d expect from them. They let loose in similar fashion in just about every other track on Morbid Stuff.
Aside from some musical tweaks, what really sets this album apart from The Dream Is Over
is Stefan Babcock’s willingness to be vulnerable. This album brings us one step closer to understanding the lead singer’s personal side, with honest and insightful lyrics snuck in that would have felt out of place on their sophomore effort. Speaking of which, let’s talk about Scorpion Hill for a moment: the anthem-driven, defining moment of PUP’s career up until this point. It’s everything “Pine Point” wanted to be and so much more. Starting with Babcock’s most serene, weathered vocals to date, it shifts gears abruptly about a minute in (recalling Titus Andronicus’ best work on the The Monitor
) with cheerful galloping guitars and abrupt tempo changes. Musically, it’s one of the band’s most varied tracks – a slight country flavor and accordion adding contrast to the huge guitar parts – but it’s the lyrical approach to “Scorpion Hill” that makes it the most ominous track of PUP’s career.
Babcock’s warped vision of fatherhood gone wrong amidst the chaos of addiction is a towering highpoint of the man’s writing abilities. Written from the perspective of someone else, the epic “Scorpion Hill” recalls a haunting experience the band members went through on tour when crashing at a stranger’s house. Glittered with used needles, cigarette butts and piss stains, it wasn’t exactly a welcoming stay for the Canadian punk band. However, it was something vocalist Babcock noticed amongst the piles of disgust that caused him immense sadness: a photograph of the guy’s son. The contrast of “my sweat-soaked mattress/corner of the room” with “got a picture of my kid, yeah he’s smiling and it’s the first day of school” is just one of many chill-inducing moments on the track. It’s a bleak portrayal of the very real opiate epidemic witnessed firsthand. Babcock uses witty lyrics to cut the tension, but he was clearly scarred by the experience. Being a father myself, the song cut through me like a saw; I was left feeling instant feelings of remorse for these people I don’t even know. The song forces you into the shoes of this lost father, and it’s a f**ing ride, man.
Without a doubt, “Scorpion Hill” is a noteworthy and unexpected high point of the band’s career, but it’s far from the only track to cause you to rethink what you know about PUP. During the tail end of Morbid Stuff
, the band tinkers with some fuzzy noise-rock influences - “Full Blown Meltdown” and “City” in particular adding new depth to the their sound. On the former, Babcock takes a hilarious stab at the sadboi punk scene, ranting hysterically, “I’m just surprised the whole world isn’t tired of grown men crying like children.” As always, he’s poking fun at himself – which he admits to doing 90 percent of the time on Morbid Stuff.
If I had to guess, the album title came from that unshakeable experience at a stranger’s home, but his ability to take flawed human beings and mold the ugliness into raucous, downright fun punk music is a bit uncanny. Yet, even at their most playful, there’s no denying these are some of the most grown-up songs they’ve made. “City” substitutes much of their wacky nature and lyrics for a well-rounded rock track that allows the instrumentation to take center stage – their slickest guitar playing making up the last minute of the album. To quote user Slex: "the end of "City" is basically a noise rock song and then out of nowhere they corral that high pitched distortion into such a catchy groove, blows my mind." Morbid Stuff
is a worthy follow up to The Dream Is Over
in all the right ways - giving fans everything they asked for with some amusing curveballs. It’s a complete thrill from front to back that manages to retain the band’s whacky nature while making some inspiring progressions forward. You can't get much closer to a modern punk classic than this.