Photo Credit: Kelly Mason
Reading Dan Campbell’s lyrics is often like reading a first-person novel. Opening his songs with lines like, “Justin and I have got the windows down // the AC is busted, it’s hotter than hell,” “It’s newly summer, and Tony Bourdain died,” “It’s already June // the light paints you pink,” and “I woke up and caught my breath // the sun had gone down on Berlin,” he comes off as an aspiring high school writer. His writing is plain, understandable, and filled with dry humor. Campbell introduces The Wonder Years’ seventh studio album The Hum Goes on Forever with the song “Doors I Painted Shut” including a great emo slogan: “I don’t wanna die // At least not without you.”
So, an album with straightforward lyrics and similarly straightforward rock songs – what’s not to like? Well, it sometimes feels like Campbell still listens to the same bands he did fifteen years ago. There’s a lot of Volbeat, a bit of Offspring, and even some Foo Fighters in the mix, and when it fires on all cylinders it sounds pretty decent. “Oldest Daughter” is the obvious highlight, an intro-less boost of driving guitars, effective drums, and throaty but superb singing. “I got you a birthday gift and I wanna send it with pictures of my kids,” reminding us about just how grown-up The Wonder Years is as a band. Take notice, Machine Gun Kelly.
The heaviest stuff works best. Songs like “The Paris of Nowhere,” the shoegaze-y “Songs About Death,” and “Wyatt’s Song (Your Name)” will most likely appeal to any fan of alternative rock. Slower material, like “Laura & the Beehive” is less likely to appear in your rotation.
More toothless than PUP or Jeff Rosenstock, The Wonder Years is a band easy to like but quite hard to love. The riffs are decent, some of the songs are pretty catchy, and I’m sure they would pull off a great live performance. But their music is never innovative or extraordinary enough to make them stick out in the crowded alternative rock arena. Truth is, The Wonder Years often reminds me of the bands I used to listen to in high school, ten years ago, of which I since long have forgotten the names of. Only time will tell whether I will remember this band in 2032.