Ageing out of pop-punk was always going to be the best thing The Wonder Years could do. Not only does it make sense for a band moving into veteran status, but an album like 2013’s The Greatest Generation would always be an uphill struggle to routinely try and top within that field. It’s still one of the best pop-punk albums of the 21st Century (perhaps a hot take, but not really), which made slides into emo on No Closer To Heaven and alt-rock on Sister Cities feel justified. They were clearly the works of a band embracing the graduation from the genre in which they’d started, moving on to climes that allowed their famous emotional rigour and deft songwriting to take on new forms that would fit their ever-growing maturity.
The key thing is that The Wonder Years have never lost steam through those moves. Sure, they aren’t cracking out new zeniths, but they’ve managed to continue their phenomenal track record unimpeded, on top of displaying a growth fitting of a band that’s always trafficked in raw, open-hearted earnestness. Sister Cities might have felt a little cold for some, but to see it as the foundation for an older, wiser band that’s still possessing the same enrapturing vision, it was the same sort of barnstormer that’s not unusual within The Wonder Years’ catalogue.
Granted, some of the muted response may have bled over into how The Hum Goes On Forever hasn’t been welcomed with the same rapture as this band once commanded. It’s not anyone’s fault—more just the natural consequence of a changing audience that’s still in a transitionary period—but it’s still a shame for what is The Wonder Years still on fine form throughout. That does come with the caveat that this isn’t their very best though, which is more likely a casualty caused by such a high bar that it’s basically impossible to raise each time. Furthermore, they’re already starting with a ridiculously high floor, to where even the familiarity that’s coming through more in their general rubric weighs them down less than it would for lesser acts.
Pretty much as soon as Doors I Painted Shut kicks things off—massive crescendos aplenty as the solemn guitars swell and Dan Campbell bursts out of quivering vulnerability into tidal waves of determination and honesty—it’s all business as usual. The Wonder Years have become so adept at wringing out emo and alt-rock’s vastness, both sonically and from a human perspective, something that’s still evidentially second nature in how Wyatt’s Song (Your Name) and Low Tide bound along, or Summer Clothes and Laura & The Beehive offer moments of restraint that are still so fertile and fresh.
Laura & The Beehive especially reads as a respooling of what worked on Sister Cities that’s present on a lot of this album; it serves the role of a Flowers Where Your Face Should Be, not necessarily as potentially devastating as that song can be, but tapping into bleary, sepia-toned loneliness in the same fashion. But that circles back to the earlier notion of familiarity, and how The Wonder Years can strike that ground without being utterly beholden to it. Ideas will crop up again but it never feels like an out-and-out retread, particularly when Cardinals II or Songs About Death trend a lot darker and moodier. Songs like that feel embedded in the maturity that continues to build album on album, tonally steering down an emo path that’s far more stark than anything on their earlier works (it’s true of the latter especially, in how the percussion clatters amid slate-gray slabs of guitar and synth), and feeling like new stops on this particular journey that make sense.
It’s true that that can come of the expense of the scream-along hooks that, admittedly, can seem like a downgrade after how supercharged The Greatest Generation was (though to say it has none would be dismissing how enormous Wyatt’s Song (Your Name) and Oldest Daughter get). That’s been a lingering argument across each release since that album, and it’s probably not wrong to say that it’s most applicable to The Hum Goes On Forever. That’s still by a factor of margins though, given how airtight The Wonder Years’ compositional style is, where peaks and valleys come as necessary and lead to an album with the usual impeccable sense of flow and momentum. It’s one of the things that sets The Wonder Years on such a higher step to their contemporaries; sequencing and craftsmanship plays a much more considerable role, even on a—for lack of a better term—‘weaker’ album like this where it’s still such an elevating factor.
But even just on their own, The Wonder Years know how to make their albums soar. They’re closing in on two decades of existence now, and The Hum Goes On Forever is exactly where a band who’ve taken their path should be at this stage. The actual poetry itself is barely worth mentioning when their phenomenal standard and eye for imagery isn’t going anywhere, but through the album’s lens of fatherhood and working through personal, societal and ecological calamities for the benefit of their children, the aspect of survivalism that’s such a bare wound across The Wonder Years’ catalogue continues to dole out rawness and realness. Hell, the album’s very first line is “I don’t wanna die / At least not without you”, effectively the thesis statement for an album that has Campbell fighting tooth and nail against his own depression to where he’s still afflicted, but there’s a family now in the picture that’s worth battling through it for.
That sort of thematic crux often brings out the best in The Wonder Years, and at its peaks that as plentiful as previous but not insignificant at all, The Hum Goes On Forever once again gets there. There’s no reason it shouldn’t, after all; their consistency has been well-known for years, as one of their scene’s most vital, esteemed bands that’s yet to even threaten to drop off. If anything, the way in which The Wonder Years are progressing is as good as can really be asked for, as they amass a catalogue of pop-punk, emo, alt-rock and the adjacent fringes that just steamrolls the competition on a regular basis. A slight dip is in no way a disappointment when it still hits like this, and when it continues to reinforce The Wonder Years as one of the best bands around.
For fans of: Boston Manor, Movements, Trash Boat
‘The Hum Goes On Forever’ by The Wonder Years is released on 23rd September on Hopeless Records.
Words by Luke Nuttall