Album Review: The Wonder Years - No Closer To Heaven (2015 LP)

Oh man. No Closer To Heaven. This is such a goddamn incredible album I'm actually a little floored. I've been a fan of The Wonder Years since their first album, The Upsides, which is a fun, catchy piece of 'I-hate-my-town' American pop-punk. Unfortunately, I figured that, as the band matured, they'd kind of get lost in over-production and whiny lyrics like a lot of straight-forward, essentially gimmick-less pop punk bands do. They're a band I've always had a soft spot for, but never felt like they were my favourite band... I was wrong, I'm woman enough to admit that. I've been listening to this album on repeat for five days and I'm still not over it...

No Closer To Heaven is an achievement. It's absolutely the best thing The Wonder Years have ever done, and one of the best albums I've heard all year. From the intro song 'Brothers', which builds and builds over an expansive choral chorus, the album is a goddamn tour de force of raw emotion.

The Wonder Years, under the steady hand of singer Dan 'Soupy' Campbell, have always put their feelings pretty front and centre – spoiler alert, Philadelphia isn't doing that well, apparently – but on No Closer To Heaven it's a straight up wall of heartbreak. A lot of the album is about death – the first single 'Cardinals' is a eulogy for a cardinal (the bird, not the religious officer) who flung himself into a window, 'Cigarettes & Saints' is a seriously beautiful song in honour of a friend lost to a drug overdose – and it's just so unbelievably powerful.

Campbell, always a thoughtful lyricist, has outclassed himself on the depth and complexity of his lyrics, both thematically and structurally. Along with death there's religion, the pharmaceutical industry, American gun violence, the problems of toxic masculinity, issues of class and race – some really difficult things handled beautifully. Musically, the album is dynamic and clear when it's good, but there's so much being tried here that the sound gets a bit lost when it's anything less than perfectly done. That's not a detraction, it just feels like it could have mixed better at some points.

The amazing thing about No Closer To Heaven is that I keep thinking that certain songs are essentially nothing special, nothing different from The Wonder Years's usual high energy, high emotion four-chord pop-punk ('A Song For Earnest Hemingway') and then there'll be something there that just lifts it up – in this case, just a really beautiful chorus melody sung a cappella, with some strangely beautiful lyrics ("I'll be your dead bird/you'll be my bloodhound"), but it's enough.

I could actually sit here and go through every song on this album and talk about why each one is spectacular, but we'd be here all night. I do want to give special mention to 'Stained Glass Ceilings' though – the coda of the song builds and builds on itself musically to a point that feels almost overwhelming, refusing to break when you feel that it should, and the emotional pressure is almost heartbreaking, all while Jason Butler of letlive. growls about the falsity of the American dream. It's so electric.

No Closer To Heaven is The Wonder Years's The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Of Me – which is pretty much the highest compliment I could give an album, any album. It's definitive, it's pop punk's new magnum opus. I'm really looking forward to seeing where they go after this – this is a watermark album, but I hope The Wonder Years keep striving.

Review Score: 10 out of ten 10

No Closer To Heaven is out now through Hopeless Records.