Following up from 2013’s The Greatest Generation, The Wonder Years return to the forefront of pop-punk with the stellar No Closer to Heaven. The Pennsylvania stalwarts have always done their best to develop as a band and their latest record is no different – as lead vocalist Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell said himself, “We want to make something new. We just tried to push out in every direction. It’s a little bit softer, it’s a little bit louder, it’s a little bit faster [and] it’s a little bit slower. It moves out every way”. That’s not to say it isn’t The Wonder Years we all know and love, but this is a band that with every album have grown up more and more, and it shows both lyrically and musically.
Opening track ‘Brothers &’ builds up and up for a minute and a half, before dropping seamlessly into ‘Cardinals’, the first single from the record. Campbell’s lyrics, much like his previous work, display a discontentment, not only for the state of his country but also of his own personal life. ‘I Don’t Like Who I Was Then’ feels like it could be dropped into The Upsides or Suburbia and nobody would notice, it’s fast, catchy – vintage Wonder Years. Second single ‘Cigarettes & Saints’ follows and is certainly one of the standout tracks on the album, featuring a mesmerising instrumental section that ties the whole song together.
The acapella intro to ‘A Song for Ernest Hemingway’ will come as a surprise to some, but when the song truly kicks in, it’s clear this will be a crowd favourite at shows the world over with its rousing chorus and tempo. ‘Stained Glass Ceilings’ features letlive. vocalist Jason Aalon Butler who impressively manages to not sound at all out of place on a pop-punk record. His contribution is not as harsh or intense as his own work with letlive., but his anger adds massively to an already brilliant track and pushes the band into a heavier territory.
‘I Wanted So Badly to Be Brave’ switches flawlessly from pop-punk to a Moose Blood-like emo and back to pop-punk without once sounding forced – definitely a personal favourite. 2014’s tour with Citizen has clearly had an influence on The Wonder Years as the opening instrumentation to ‘Palm Reader’ would fit quite nicely on Citizen’s 2013 output Youth. The album closes with ‘No Closer to Heaven’ which feels like a fitting end to a fantastic record. After 12 tracks of pop-punk mastery, the acoustic guitar and almost-whispered vocals from Campbell round off the album perfectly, leaving no doubt that you have just listened to one of the best alternative albums of 2015.
No Closer to Heaven is a clear progression for The Wonder Years. It’s still their unique brand of pop-punk that has brought them the love of fans across the world, but it’s grown up. The album’s concept of dealing with the loss of a loved one is something that everyone will have to go through multiple times in their lives and Campbell’s master lyricism helps weave this theme into songs that are meaningful, catchy but most importantly, immensely enjoyable to listen to. No Closer to Heaven will be held in high regard for years to come and is quite possibly the band’s best work to date. But doesn’t that feel like something we say with every The Wonder Years release?