Considering their name is an acronym for Pathetic Use of Potential, PUP have managed to avoid such a self-imposed destiny with almost impossible levels of deftness. Two stellar albums will certainly do that, but the crux of the Canadian quartet’s appeal comes in the galvanisation of the punk scene that’s so often been attributed to them. They’ve frequently come out with wonderful blends of pop-punk, indie-punk and Weezer-esque power-pop, sloughing off the vast majority of negatives with all three and crystallising the remainder for the sort of tight yet ragged music that’s hard not to totally fall in love with. The move to a major label for this third album certainly shows that something has clicked with the wider world too, and given that early tracks have adopted a vehement ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ attitude to their sound, all signs are already pointing to Morbid Stuff being the springboard for PUP’s next tremendous leap forwards.
In reality though, while PUP have been bounding forward over the course of their last two albums, Morbid Stuff feels more like a comfortable jog by comparison. It’s most certainly not a bad album – in many ways, it still embodies all the reasons that this band are as far forward within the indie-punk scene as they currently are – but it’s less of an innovation or evolution, and more of a band holding tightly to what they’ve already got and embracing it. It’s what makes Morbid Stuff as enjoyable as it is, and for the most part, there’s still plenty of energy and charm that stands out here, but when sat next to just what was brought to the table on their previous material, it’s easy to see the increased parity between this album and the last in a clearer light.
Whether that can be viewed as a disappointment or not is entirely relative of course, but there’s definitely a familiarity to Morbid Stuff that does dial back the wow factor by a few degrees. For a band who were once the top dogs within their scene (so to speak), PUP’s efforts here feel more in line with the norm, still standing strong, but lacking the biggest swings that could make them so potent. It’s more a case of the sonic palate than anything else, with any evolutions or deviations feeling relatively minor this time around compared to what this band have previously delivered. Again, that’s not to say that any of this is bad; as far as garage-rock and punk goes, PUP bring a verve and roaring, bracing energy with the likes of Kids and Bloody Mary, Kate And Ashley that can be absolutely riotous, and with Stefan Babcock’s sneering, snotty delivery that’s almost cartoonish in its brightness and exuberance, there’s still a very clear sense that this is a band nowhere near becoming swept into the doldrums of this particular sound. It’s a testament to PUP that they’ve been able to make that work too, especially with the likes of the clattering rampage of Sibling Rivalry or the foray into what borders on hardcore punk territory with Full Blown Meltdown, managing to have a sense of distinction but keeping that familiarity firmly in place.
But it’s when the familiarity becomes the dominant focus that’s the main issue, and Morbid Stuff feels held down by that a bit too much more than it needs to be. Part of that is in production that doesn’t quite feel as well-realised as it intends to, and while the intentional scruffiness does come through, it can veer a bit too close to messiness on a track like Scorpion Hill, even if the intent for something a bit longer and more dexterous is definitely admirable. Beyond that though, Morbid Stuff just doesn’t have the sort of highs that PUP have delivered in the past, and while the raw energy is there in spades, it can be tough to isolate how it’s used to its absolute best. This is an album that feels much more suited to the live environment where that pace and drive is the dominant factor, as here, it suffers the problem of running together more than it reasonably should.
The same could easily be said about the writing, especially when this sort of deep, depression-fuelled bloodletting is yet another factor that’s become extremely common within this scene, but PUP do it much better than others, most because of Babcock as a frontman and the sort of incisiveness that he brings. The scene-setting on the opening title track is definitely a great start, but the recollections of fractured relationships on See You At Your Funeral and Sibling Rivalry and the increased dependency on drugs on Full Blown Meltdown feels all the more breathless and vital, particularly when Babcock’s own demons manifest themselves on a line like “Just ‘cause you’re sad again, it doesn’t make you special” on Free At Last. It’s hardly shining a new light on this sort of content, especially given the volume of highly personal work that comes through in music in general, but PUP’s take on it makes use of the energy that this album runs on to give it that extra kick to stand out, ultimately ending up as its saving grace.
That’s not to say that the rest is bad, because it certainly isn’t, but from a musical standpoint at least, Morbid Stuff does feel a shade away from PUP’s usual greatness. It’s most definitely a worthy addition to their catalogue, but the niggling feeling that there’s more they could do is in abundance, and while, in the grand scheme of things, it’s not that damaging, this does feel like a slightly lesser release. But still, that’s only because this is a band held in the highest regard already, and even if this could be described as their weakest album, there’s a sense of honesty and punch that’s hard to ignore and even harder not to like. It mightn’t quite be PUP’s crowning achievement, but Morbid Stuff shows their capability to pull out a winner remains perfectly intact.
For fans of: The Menzingers, Pkew Pkew Pkew, Iron Chic
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Morbid Stuff’ by PUP is out now on BMG Rights Management / Rise Records.