The Wonder Years are one of those bands. I feel like you either get it, and love it - or it doesn't resonate with you, and you can take it or leave it. For me, they are one of my favourite bands, lyrically, going today.
Yes, they released a trio of albums about growing up in suburbia. Yes, they have a number of songs dealing with hospital life, and even death. But for me, it's what I connect with.
I grew up in a small bedroom community, so a lot of the cold and mundane, that Dan Campbell sings about, rings true for me. I have also spent a lot of time in the hospital with a son who has faced, and beaten, cancer - as well as a couple other children who have had various medical issues and scares. So, his lyrics hit home.
Musically they are a band that started out pretty straight forward in their pop punk ways, but have grown and evolved over the years - all of it, I enjoy. So, I figured I would share my thoughts on their full length albums, and put them in order from worst to first (except even their worst is still really good).
Before getting in to the list, check out our episode No Closer Generation.
5. The Upsides
The Upsides was the last album from The Wonder Years that I listened to. Honestly, I got to the game a little late with the band, so they had already released a few banger albums. Because of that, it's also the one I know the least. I would still put this record up against a lot of pop punk coming out today. I'd even put it up against a lot of pop punk that came out at the genre's peak. It's fast, it's melodic, and it's the start of 'the trilogy'.
Standout tracks: My Last Semester and Melrose Diner.
4. Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing
Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing is the second full length (not counting Get Stoked On It! which the band kind of ignores the existence of). This record shows a bit of growth in songwriting for the band. The pieces fit together better than Upsides, and the harder hitting parts hit harder. It's a fun, fast, melodic continuation of their look at suburban living.
Standout tracks: Came Out Swinging (I dare you not to get pumped up listening to this song) and Hoodie Weather (it's the best kind of weather, really).
3. The Greatest Generation
I know, I know - The Greatest Generation is the greatest pop punk album of the last 10 years. You could say that, and I might not disagree with you. That may be a weird thing to say, and not put it at number one, on a list of Wonder Years albums, but I have my reasons. I love this album. I think opening with There, There is an interesting, but bold, choice. The closing track is absolutely incredible with not only how hard the main part of the song hits, but also how they tie the whole record together. It's truly a masterpiece, and fitting end to 'the trilogy'. My main reason for not putting this record at the top, is that it's just a little too bloated. It only has 13 songs, but it feels like some of them bleed into each other in the middle of the record, getting lost in it all.
Standout tracks: Dismantling Summer (the lyrical imagery hit home, real hard, when I first heard this song - having a son in the hospital at the time) and I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral (one of the greatest closers of all time?).
2. Sister Cities
When Sister Cities was released, it seemed to divide fans. They had taken a turn in songwriting, moving a little further away from straight up pop punk, and opening things up sonically. This is why I think this record is so good. The guitars are lush, and beautiful, but also full of angst and energy. The drums sound big and roomy, even though they are the one part that took some growing for me. The songs continue to grow, and get better with time.
Standout tracks: Flowers Where Your Face Should Be and When the Blue Finally Came.
1. No Closer to Heaven
No Closer To Heaven was my introduction to The Wonder Years. Like I said, I was late to the game. In fact, this was the album that brought me back around to listening to new pop punk. From the opener Brothers &/Cardinals to the closer No Closer to Heaven and everything in between, this album is full of great moments. I remember reading comments from listeners who were disappointed with the album because the band started to venture away, in the tiniest bit, from straight forward pop punk. That's the strength of the album for me, though. It has tender quiet, introspective moments alongside massive guitars and urgent energy. All of it incredibly well played.
Standout tracks: Cigarettes & Saints (try not to get emotional, I dare you) and Stained Glass Ceilings (the Jason Aalon Butler feature might be one of the best pop punk features of all time).
There it is. That's the list. It's definitive. Except, of course, your list most likely differs. How do you rank The Wonder Years' albums?
For more lyrically heavy music, read my review of the album Lament by Touché Amoré, here.