The Wonder Years Find Defiance in Defeat on 'The Hum Goes on Forever'
Published Sep 20, 2022For more than a decade, the Wonder Years' mission statement has been to take their personal struggles with deep-felt pain and turn them into communal tools for healing. In that time, they've evolved from a goofy half-joke band into a musical force to be taken dead seriously. If pop-punk has historically been written off as music for whiny teens, the Wonder Years are largely responsible for making pop-punk feel like it really matters, even to grownups.
Each of the Philadelphia band's albums feels important in its own way. They don't repeat themselves; they tell new chapters of old stories. Every few years, they're a little bit older, a little bit wiser, and a little more broken. The pain never really goes away, and it's that sense of determination — even while always hanging by a thread — that makes their seventh album The Hum Goes on Forever feel so momentous.
The band's style of anthemic, emotionally charged pop-punk hasn't changed dramatically, but what has continued to change is their perspective. Singer Dan Campbell has openly written about his struggles with depression and anxiety since their 2010 breakthrough The Upsides and its defiantly optimistic slogan, "I'm not sad anymore." The Wonder Years' emotional weight was heavy enough back then, when Campbell was a depressed post-grad spending most of his twenties in the back of a van and the spare rooms of his friends' run-down Philly apartments, passing the time by watching The Office and eating Lucky Charms. Those early albums produced a sizeable collection of songs that made life-changing impressions on their fans, yet the stakes feel higher and the scope bigger now that Campbell is a new father, grappling with both the ghosts of his past and the fear of an uncertain future.
Throughout The Hum Goes on Forever, Campbell assesses the anxieties that came with new fatherhood, including the childhood traumas he had not yet reckoned with. He cradles his son in his arms while he looks out the window and sees a world in decline, racked by fascism, climate disaster, mass shootings and a deadly pandemic. What world did he bring a child into? It's this notion that gives the album its central thrust, from the gorgeous opener "Doors I Painted Shut" to the love-filled and nervously hopeful "Wyatt's Song (Your Name)" and all the way to the soulful finale "You're the Reason I Don't Want the World to End." The Hum Goes on Forever is another fine showcase of Dan Campbell's evolution from a clever storyteller to a genuine poet.
"Oldest Daughter" picks up where "Madelyn" left off on 2013's The Greatest Generation, its disarmingly upbeat rhythm and poppy melodies continuing the story of a self-destructive sibling, conveying the tragic knowledge that you can't save everyone from themselves: "Madelyn, I love you, but we both know how this ends." Similarly, "Cardinals II" offers a sequel to one of their most heartbreaking songs from 2015's No Closer to Heaven, this time with a slower, ruminative tempo that excavates a few more years of reflection on the loss of a friend. On 2011's Suburbia I've Given You All and Now I'm Nothing, the Wonder Years walked listeners through the streets of Philadelphia and showed them the people who had been failed by the American dream. Here, "The Paris of Nowhere" portrays their hometown as a place that's filled with ghosts; the longer they live there, the more they're embittered by urban rot and haunted by bad memories. But with its catchy, singalong chorus, it's an acknowledgment of everybody who's still there with them — after all, it's home.
Meanwhile, the band matches Campbell's furious passion and pained soul-searching better than ever. They've moved far past the limitations of straight-ahead pop-punk; these songs are dynamic and resonant enough to ensure that you feel the life-or-death importance written into the lyrics. There are some very heavy sections in "Songs About Death" and "Old Friends Like Lost Teeth" that can make the Earth shake the same way loss does. On the other hand, the band can embrace a quiet tune like "Laura & the Beehive" and let it convey a lovely sense of tenderness, resisting the urge to suddenly explode into loudness. Likely thanks in large part to producer Will Yip, The Hum Goes on Forever often feels sweeping and symphonic in its delivery, even though it's still just six guys in a rock band playing their usual rock instruments.
If the Wonder Years put anything less than their bloody, bleeding hearts into their music, none of it would work. But they do, so it does. The Hum Goes on Forever finds the Wonder Years doing what they do best and doing it a bit better each time, all while raising the emotional stakes to make each record feel newly important. The longer this band keeps it up, the more inspiring it is to watch them do it. Where there's exhaustion, they find endurance. Where there's pain, they find perseverance. And where there's defeat, they find defiance. (Hopeless)