By Mark Bias
Following the critically acclaimed record “The Greatest Generation,” The Wonder Years have released an album that is trickling with regret and bursting with passion. “No Closer to Heaven” is emotionally difficult to endure, but what makes the record so appealing is the subtlety of hope that builds with every song.
Right from the start, The Wonder Years make it clear that “The Greatest Generation” was only the start of their massive trek to the top. The song “Brothers” opens the album with chanting gang vocals and the repetition of the line: “We’re no saviors if we can’t save our brothers.” Then, the song “Cardinals” smashes through the somber tone of the opener and The Wonder Years show their signature pop-punk energy for which they have become known.
After the first two songs, the album does tend to have its peaks and valleys. The instrumentation in songs like “Cigarettes and Saints” and the lyrics in songs like “I Wanted So Badly to Be Brave” are vast improvements on previous efforts. Dan Campbell passionately yells, “My whole generation got lost in the margin. We put our faith in you, you turned a profit and now we’re drowning here under your waves.”
The album is filled with these spine-tingling moments, and it is because of these extreme highs that, when certain songs become too generic, they stand out much more. Songs like “A Song For Patsy Cline” and “Palm Reader” weigh down the album due to their conformity to generic sounds and uneventful lyricism. However, in its entirety, “No Closer To Heaven” serves as a solid release that is not so much a step up from previous albums, but a step in a new direction as the band sheds the pop aspect of their sound and explores other influences, such as emo and post-rock.
After getting through the emotional roller coaster that is “No Closer To Heaven,” the final song and title track ends the album much differently than expected. If listeners remember “The Greatest Generation,” the one thing that probably stood out was the incredible ender that revisited all of the highlights throughout the album.
Instead, The Wonder Years chose to do a soft acoustic song that perfectly captures the gloomy feeling of losing a loved one and trying to find meaning in one’s life once again. Campbell whispers, “It feels like the day before something important. It feels like the first snow of a season that sticks. It’s how I’ll always feel like a failure in the back of my head, no matter where I’ve been. But the future feels bright,” which leads me to believe that The Wonder Years know exactly what they are doing. Despite the low points of the album, “No Closer To Heaven” brings The Wonder Years that much closer to the top.