Review Summary: “Just ‘cos you’re sad again, it doesn’t mean you’re special at all!”
PUP have had quite the decade. After forming in 2010, they have toured the world relentlessly racking up hundreds upon hundreds of shows each year; they have garnered an impressive cult following via their boundlessly creative music videos; they have released two critically acclaimed albums via Side One Dummy - and now the stage is set for them to achieve world domination with their major label debut, Morbid Stuff. The question is: how does it stack up against their other records?
First of all, it must be said that this is a great album and this is miles ahead of the cookie-cutter pop-rock which most of PUP’s peers are churning out. Morbid Stuff is playful, hard-hitting, heavy and catchy (often all at the same time) and the record is unmistakeably the work of PUP. Free at Last is one such example of a quintessential PUP track and surely ranks as one of their finest songs to date. The song races by in two and a half minutes with its hair metal guitar hooks, galloping drums and a typically self-deprecating shout-along chorus hook (“Just ‘cos you’re sad again, it doesn’t mean you’re special at all!”), which will leave you grinning ear to ear.
Sibling Rivalry is a further example of the band acing their tried-and-tested formula of catchy melodies and colourful musical arrangements, coupled once again with their trademark humorous lyrics. Everything comes together perfectly in the chorus, in which crunchy chords propel the dual vocalists along with them trading classic sibling jibes: “You know just how to p*ss me off!” “Don’t test my patience!”. Bloody Mary Kate and Ashley is another fantastic track, which bounces along in a wonky fashion with awkward time signatures and surreal lyrics.
However, the most impressive cut has to be centrepiece Scorpion Hill. Clocking in at just over five minutes, listeners are taken on an unforgettable journey of a song, which depicts the life of a man spiralling out of control, when he is suddenly faced with unemployment. The song twists and turns and covers everything from a campfire singalong, to a rollicking punk style, bringing to mind The Lawrence Arms or perhaps The Wonder Years at their very best. The attention to detail on this track is simply outstanding. The second verse cuts a tragic picture of a person receiving a life-changing phone call whilst aboard a train to work. This is complimented by a thunderous rhythm section bringing to mind a runaway train metaphor, as the lead guitarist conjures up the locomotive’s whistle with a canny lead guitar squeal.
So, surely this album ticks every box then?
Well, unfortunately not. As strong as many of the songs are here, this album just does not quite compare to the band’s previous stellar brace of records. Unusually for PUP, there are some really quite forgettable songs on Morbid Stuff. The title track is one such example. With the exception of a couple of trademark lyrical zingers in the verses, it really is a bizarrely underwhelming opener with no real discernible refrain and an uninspired slowed down recycled outro (a trick used far too often for my liking on this album). Closure is similarly just not that remarkable (apart from the gorgeous, twinkly instrumental) and Full Blown Meltdown, although noisy and sufficiently different from all the other tracks here, is nowhere near as much fun as the band’s previous forays into noisier territory.
Then we come to the final two tracks, Bare Hands and City. Whereas City at least offers an attempt at the slow burn formula (albeit a somewhat disjointed one), Bare Hands brings absolutely nothing to the plate. The intro instantly brings to mind Familiar Patterns from PUP’s previous record The Dream is Over and what follows is just a mish-mash of recycled ideas and a bizarre lack of gusto for a song centred around a rather evocative image.
I feel at this point it would be a shame to get bogged down in criticism for what really is an album which is far better than average. There are more than a handful of songs here which show that PUP are very much still on top of their game. However, there is an unshakeable feeling that Morbid Stuff is a solid hit, when it really should have been a home run.