I am very much addicted to the new record from The Wonder Years. It’s called “The Greatest Generation.” In a week it has become that kind of album that feels like a good friend, the kind you call after a shitty day who listens and understands and helps you keep your head on straight.
I listed to the album a ton when it was streaming pre-release, and picked up a physical copy for $10 at a Hot Topic at the Capital City Mall off of I-83 after work two days after it came out. I purposely hadn’t read any album reviews. Took the long way home to get a full car listen in, which is an extra enjoyable experience when you already know the words and where the big moments are. Took me a long time to sit down and write about it, as is often the case with topics of dear import to me.
“Two blackbirds on a highway sign
Are laughing at me at four in the morning.
They played the war drum out of time
So I’m not sure where I’ve been marching.
I wanna be strong, but it’s not easy anymore.
I’m hoping I’m wrong.”
~The Devil in My Blooodstream
Chain smoking and reflecting, I thought about how much of the album is about turning despair into absolution, and getting the best you can out of yourself. It’s no optimistic tale, by any means. Fear is a prominent theme, but it is embraced. There’s hope there, buried in acceptance of, or even surrender to, reality and self-assertion. No shortage of compelling, spot-on lyrics, as you would expect from this band by its fourth LP. Dan Campbell has truly succeeded in spilling his guts with vibrant and original turns of phrase, from personifying devils in bloodstreams and on front porches, to the reminiscent and familiar and ubiquitous memories of old houses and highways.
“The Greatest Generation” is something of a redemption story, of not only the narrator’s life but of a era full of mutually lost souls. The kind who are confounded by growing up in a time where they are guaranteed nothing, yet feel the promise of everything all at once, in the blighted cities and the troubled families and the broken, forgotten romances.
“I keep a flashlight
And a small knife in the corner of my bed stand.
I keep a flashlight and the train times,
But you wouldn’t understand.
How could you understand?”
~Passing Through a Screen Door
All deep thoughts aside, it’s fabulously fucking fun to listen to.
TWY has always had really precise guitar lines, unbelievably layered – you’ll hear the catchy pop punk-style riffs underscored with heavy bass, and dramatic harmonic echoes in a bridge, then pedal-fueled shredding to cap it all off. Solos are stretched out into climatic collapse of call-and-response response singing and thrashing crash hits – don’t let the emotions and narratives mislead you, this is a rock band with some fierce ability to throw down. The production mimics the style of the songs, focusing on moments in true Mark Trombino form. I love the way that so many songs seem to build and break. Songs don’t end as much as they explode. Drummer Mike Kennedy shines, he’s intricate and steady – see the intro of closer “I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral” for a taste of him at his best. That song might be the best thing they’ve ever done.
The use of keys and acoustics on tracks like “The Devil in my Bloodstream” and “Madelyn” give it a breather…”Devil” in particular is easily one of the most mature songs TWY have ever produced, though it in no way sacrifices their grit or glory or raw emotion, and I love that. I think that’s the way growth is supposed to work, anyway, in a band or a life or whatever.
I’m thrilled with Campell singing lower at moments, and background vocals are used throughout yet just enough to keep (as on other records). The back-ups in the chorus of “Dismantling Summer” makes me smile, and Campbell’s cracking in the bridge of “Passing Through a Screen Door” break my heart. “An American Religion,” one of the edgier tracks, is incredibly striking and sharp with a bitter taste. One of my most-listened to favorites so far is “The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves.” I seriously cannot stop listening to this song, because it is about being scrappy, and reminding myself that I am scrappy is the only way I get through the day sometimes.
“I know I was an angry kid
But I scraped and scratched for this
Now I’m stuck holding a bomb
With a fuse that’s still lit”
~The Bastards, The Vultures, The Wolves
The liner notes in the album were very interesting to me (the packaging, by the way, is beautiful and cool and classy). They said something about how *this* generation can, and should, be the next to be great. I want to remember that. I think we all should remember that. How easy it is to sell yourself short. How easy it is to shut off the world. It is much harder to engage, because the second you jump, you know you don’t really know where you’re going to land.
Simply, this is an amazing album, it is a story of this age for the ages. It tells of scenes and feelings only those who were there and felt it can truly understand. Listening to this record is ultimately reflective for me, and though I generally get that way any time I band I really love has a new release, there will be distinct associations of times and places and feelings I will have with this record. About being almost 25 and still not sure if I’m growing up, if I want to, or if I have already and don’t even know it yet. About how every decision terrifies, but no decision depresses. About learning to let go or realizing you can’t.
There’s something a bit pivotal going on right now, for me personally, and the generation at large. Here I stand staring at the next chapter, knowing full well the damage I’ve done and the dreams I’ve desperately clung to….I can list the failures far quicker than the triumphs, though only I will understand why any such moments are important to me. To the rest of the world, who am I? Who are any of us? It’s instinctive to say not much, given the smallness of our little lives in the vastness that surrounds us. But I think that’s where the triumph is to be found, by giving in to whatever the world offers you, and wherever your life brings you. Being open for whatever harm or hope comes your way. That will fill you, color you, and collectively, if we’ve all got enough strength to open our eyes and look around and, collectively, forge ahead, we just might make it OK. Maybe better.
“Because I’m sick of seeing ghosts and I know how it’s all gonna end.
There’s no triumph waiting. There’s no sunset to ride off in.
We all want to be great men and there’s nothing romantic about it.
I just want to know that I did all I could with what I was given.”
~I Just Want To Sell Out My Funeral
The Wonder Years, The Greatest Generation