On a brisk autumn morning, a curious ray of morning sun gleams through the gap of smoke-stained plastic window blinds. Countless particles of dust dance through the beam above a desk adorned with half empty mugs of tea and a crumpled Del Taco bag from the night before. The golden streak of dawn presses on through a slight opening of a closet that does not close, layer upon layer of landlord white hamstringing the hinges. It shines on a dark, sherpa-lined jean jacket emblazoned with pop punk patches, a cartoonish skull enamel pin, and a worldly collection of coffee and beer stains that blend into the deep blue denim. One of these days, I should get that jacket dry cleaned, but that will have to wait, for it yearns to be donned once more; The Ides of October have come to pass and sad boy season is well underway.
With the coming of the season, the sad boys seek their annual anthems to pair with the frosty chill and ennui, and it’s always a special occurrence when a fitting new album arrives at the dawn of October. In 2022, these angels singing (and sometimes screaming) on high were none other than some of Philadelphia’s finest pop-punk sons; The Wonder Years, who released The Hum Goes on Forever just a few weeks ago.
Admittedly, the last time I wrote one of these, being a sad boy was an immensely different experience. There were varying degrees of darkness, but also some novelty; a cuteness or puckish nature to it, if you will. However, just before the celebrations of Ol’ St. Patrick in 2020, the world gave us the best worst thing possible: a valid reason to cancel all our plans and sit in our homes with nothing but our thoughts and a screen to watch the world outside go to hell in a handbasket, all for months on end.
Believe me; nothing cute or puckish happened in those homes. We sad boys reached the depressed recluse equivalent of Super Saiyan 4, and some of us even reveled in it, for we’d been training for lockdown our entire lives. All that being said, I was curious to see how new works from a quintessential sad boy act would hit differently after emerging from the fart-tinged haze of my old apartment into a post-Covid world (well, not post-Covid, per say. If we’re being real here, the government found pandemic containment to be outside of their interests and threw us to the wolves, Y’all know what I mean).
The boys over at Wonder Years HQ dropped quite the humdinger of an opening track for this one; a triumphantly defeatist, surging fanfare entitled “Doors I Painted Shut”. The swelling guitars and marching snare cadence build up like the tears from that seventh comfort watch-through of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (Extended Edition, of course. I’m no coward. I’m not afraid to feel). Over that build, the vocals lament the struggle pf finding reason to stick around with a broken psyche in a dying world, only to explode into a pounding call-and-response, in which the response shouts the same phrase again and again; “I don’t like me.” Sounds a lot like my morning mantra as I gaze upon my thinning mane in the mirror while I brush my teeth.
From here, the album breaks into full pop-punk fashion with “Wyatt’s Song (Your Name)”, which champions frontman Dan “Soupy” Campbell’s reason to stay that he found for himself; the birth of his eldest son. Campbell sings about finding light and purpose in fatherhood, despite a long-running penchant for pessimism. While I’ve yet to beat that penchant myself, the song delivered on its intent; a glimmer of hope for the listener. For me, personally, it filled me with the same plethora of feelings that I get when one of my friends has a kid, which is starting to happen more abundantly. I was awash with a glint of optimism that my long-time pals will raise one of the shapers of a better world, mixed with a heaving sense of dread over my own mortality and a queasy disdain for sticky little hands. Seriously, how have we not figured out why kids are perpetually stick, regardless of circumstance? Are you people just coating their toys in melted toffee every night? Wet Naps, people. Get a pack and get your shit together.
The album then keeps pace with one of the tried and true tricks in the codex of pop punk and emo, that being a driving tempo with heart-rending lyrics, presented here in the form of “Oldest Daughter”. This jam tells the story of a hardship-plagued unhoused woman at her wits end and a loved one who ponders if our protagonist has reached a point of no return. One line that sticks out in the lyrics is “Some people have all the luck. Some gotta live”, inferring that the protagonist sees the dead as the fortunate ones, which is a sentiment some of us may have let dance in our minds, what with all the bottomless pits of doom-scrolling available to us at the click of a baby-blue songbird.
From here, this steam engine of sadness makes a hasty stop for water at the beginning of Cardinals II, which is presented as a follow-up to the song Cardinals off of the band’s 2015 album “No Closer to Heaven”, only to quickly ramp back up into a melancholic fury following the intro to bring us barrelling into the station known as “The Paris of Nowhere”. The song speaks of Campbell’s life in Philadelphia, citing the building of “shrines to Saint Nick Foles” across the city, and deservedly so, as Foles led the Eagles to a monumental Super Bowl victory in 2018. Foles also notably did the exact opposite for the Bears in 2020, but at this point, having faith in the Bears in any fashion is an act of masochism in itself. So much so, that you’d likely find yourself unsurprised to see grown men flogging themselves with links of bratwurst in the parking lot of Soldier Field, but I digress. The song carries on with one of the heavier themes of the album; building a better world through building up our communities, which is a beautiful sentiment. If only that pesky American plutocracy would quit sicking their doughnut-engorged death squad on us whenever we make attempts at meaningful change. A pipe dream, I know.
The album then does some roller-coastering of tempo and emotion in the next three songs, being Summer Clothes, Lost it in the Lights, and Songs About Death. These tunes strum and cry out into the ether with themes ranging from summers of years past, overcoming impostor syndrome, and well…death. The first track provides a brief change in mood, with pleasant campfire acoustic strumming the builds to a triumphant climax, and stories of finding relief from the weight of self-loathing in little moments like the taste of sea air at a late night beach outing. Lost it in the Lights, my favorite of the three tracks, returns to the standard heat of the album with a passionate anthem in which Soupy expresses hints of imposter syndrome by questioning “what if the magic’s gone?”, only to find that the burning passion from his youth still manages to fuel him today. As someone who’s first thought whenever I submit a draft to FBC is “I should not have fucking done that”, any song that touches on impostor syndrome always hits home for me. The last song in this chain comes with heavy, swelling breakdowns as Campbell laments the driving force of pessimism and, while thankful that it unites the band and their fans to mourn their own losses through music, wishes events that drive such a mindset would subside.
This brings us to Low Tide, one of the singles released prior to the album drop. From here, we return to pace with another driving anthem to catapult us into the back end of the album. This song makes a return to one of the common themes of the record as well; suffering from depression that is further fueled by the events of the outside world, so much so that the chorus screams on letting one’s appearance and grooming fall by the wayside in the wake of apathy, simply stating, “I’m growing out my hair, ‘cause who gives a shit?”. This repeated line gave me a chuckle, as I had the exact same thought at the beginning of Covid lockdown when I gave myself my first DIY mohawk, simply because it seemed like the only time I’d ever get away with doing so.
Low Tide then comes screeching to a halt, cushioned by the album’s ballad, Laura & The Beehive. In this dreamy, keyboard-laden track, Soupy cites a protective loved one (perhaps a mother or grandmother, given the context clues in the title and lyrics) who worries for his well being when they hear his work, but with whom he enjoys making small talk over the phone and takes solace in their interactions. This song served as a pleasant reminder that I should probably call my mom with good tidings more often.
In Old Friends Like Lost Teeth, the band revs back up to full throttle for the penultimate track pushing Campbell through recounts of uneasy dreams in which he interacts with figures that remind him of his loneliness and strife, before coming to a peaceful cruise for the opening verse of You’re the Reason I Don’t Want the World to End. This cruise eventually builds back up to a passionate anthem in which Campbell touches more on finding purpose in fatherhood, eventually dropping back down to a soft outro as the album kisses the listener goodnight.
All in all, this album is a wonderful addition to the collection of any sad boy, but perhaps even more so for the aging sad boy, with its heavier focus on themes of parenthood and loss. Either way, between the musicality of the band and the intensity of Campbell’s poetry, it’s safe to say ol’ Soupy and the gang delivered on an all-around solid arrangement of tunes to champion this sad boy season. I wish you all happy listening, and if anyone needs me in the meantime, I’ll be crying while I drink in the shower with this album on full blast, so please knock loudly.