Dan “Soupy” Campbell is not sad anymore. After years of struggling to keep his head above water, The Wonder Years’ frontman is looking for the upsides to life. The newly adopted mantra is also the namesake of the band’s sophomore effort, The Upsides.
The album ups the ante in every way possible. The songwriting is more dynamic, sans the out of place breakdowns and unnecessary keyboards. (Keyboardist Mikey Kelly left the band prior to the recording of the album.) In their place are more opportunities for the other instruments to shine. Mike Kennedy displays some impressive skin work with his upbeat drumming throughout the 40 minute duration. Matt Brasch and Casey Cavaliere’s guitar work is more refined and melodic, while bassist Josh Martin keeps the low-end thumping. Campbell’s vocals have also improved immensely. He offers more soaring choruses and crooning melodies.
The lyrics are more personal than ever. You won’t find tracks about zombies or ninjas, but that’s not to say that the songs are without humor, with topics mentioned including sexting, cock-blocking, and fist pumping. Although Campbell may no longer be sad, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty about which he is unhappy. Lyrical content ranges from the loneliness of tour life (“Everything I Own Fits in this Backpack”) to social awkwardness (“This Party Sucks”) to persevering through the bad times (“Washington Square Park”). The production was lacking on the bands debut, Get Stoked on It!, but this time around they enlisted Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer guitarist Vince Ratti (Circa Survive, Valencia), who gives the band a nice, full sound.
The album doesn’t have any obvious hits but is not without its stand-out tracks. “Logan Circle”, “Hostels & Brothels”, and “Melrose Diner” are all memorable for their anthemic energy and catchiness. “Dynamite Shovel” is a blistering, one minute diatribe against bigotry. “Hey Thanks” features ukulele, trombone and guest vocals from Zolof the Rock & Roll Destroyer’s Rachel Minton, making it impossible not to bob your head along to the whimsical jingle. Album closer “All My Friends are in Bar Bands” concludes with a plethora of the group’s talented friends – Shane Henderson of Valencia, Dave Mackinder of Fireworks, Matty Arsenault of A Loss For Words, Jamie Rhoden of Title Fight, Nik Bruzzese of Man Overboard – repeating the disc’s opening line, “I’m not sad anymore / I’m just tired of this place.” It ends the album perfectly, cementing the recurrent theme and bookending it nicely.
In the refrain of “New Years with Carl Weathers”, Campbell sings “It’s gonna be our year, boys.” It’s an appropriate statement; with a January release, the band is looking to capitalize 2010 with an early contender for album of the year for any fan of pop punk. Appropriately, there aren’t really any downsides to be found on the album. Since their inception, The Wonder Years have been getting better with each release, and The Upsidesis their greatest accomplishment yet.