It Holds Up: The Wonder Years—’The Upsides’

Posted: by The Editor

There’s so much to say about The Upsides, the second full-length from South Philly pop-punk icons The Wonder Years, released in 2010. They’re that kind of band that really hits you different, and that started with this record. Once I was introduced to this album, I became fully immersed in the scene I’m still engulfed in today. Now, I’m in my last semester of college, reflecting on what makes this album hold up, nine years later. When looking at the anecdotal narratives, the heavy punk themes, reminiscent and “complete” effect, there’s no second guessing.

Album opener, “My Last Semester,” is one of my favorite intro tracks of all time. Fast, energetic, punk as all hell. It wastes no time in introducing you to the record’s theme, “I’m not sad anymore,” repeated in nearly every song. The lyrics are still culturally relevant. Vocalist Dan (Soupy) Campbell yells, “The homophobic bullshit that’s somehow okay/Just because you didn’t ‘mean it that way’,” is sadly still relatable. I work in a freshman building, so when I hear the line, “tryin’ to convince these freshmen they’re somebody,” I feel it. It’s so interesting to see how college can hit someone like a ton of bricks.

The Upsides carries many repeated hooks, first brought on “Logan Circle,” an anecdote about moving back home. Group vocals are prevalent throughout, and songs like this, its reprise, “A New Hope”, “Hostels and Brothels,” and “It’s Never Sunny In South Philadelphia,” are pungent examples of Soupy’s intelligent, vibrant lyricism. Memoirs of hanging with friends and finding the little treasures in life are easy for so many to relate to.

An exploration of places, old and new, are fitted into numerous songs, as most of this record was written on tour. For instance, “Dynamite Shovel” describes being in a place where the sociocultural norms are on the wrong side of history, and basic human rights. If that isn’t relevant right now, then I haven’t been in some sketchy places in the Midwest. And I know that’s not limited, but at least in songs like “New Years’ With Carl Weathers,” you realize some things you can’t let break you.

So many situations in this LP are so personal to Campbell, but it’s like all our lives run the same course at some point. Some of us still just really don’t get Morrissey. “Melrose Diner” has the most fun chorus on this record, (what else are breakup songs for, anyway?) and Campbell had this to say about its lyrics in an interview with fuckyeahpoppunk: “I hope the song shows the balance you kind of unconsciously strike between what you know is the correct logical manner of thinking and what your over-emotional brain wants to think.” It’s one of the reasons why I still find this song constantly dragging me and my illogical thought processes.

While my thesis is that this album is still extremely relevant, unifying, and well-made today, I have to give a nod to “This Party Sucks,” the one song that shows the age of this song, back when overplayed radio songs were hard to avoid and Jersey Shore was airing its first season. “Hey Thanks” feels dated to me, but moreso in a personal way.  I got asked to prom with this song and I’m no longer in that relationship. For Campbell, he is also no longer in the relationship (see: “Woke Up Older” and “You In January”), but ukulele punk will never die. And I still can’t get over that trombone solo.

Lastly, the song that is most cemented in its age, which was Campbell’s goal, is “All My Friends Are In Bar Bands.” A relic of its own, with the end of the song repeating the album’s mantra, and those bar band friends lending their voice to the track. I still remember first hearing this song and hoping those bands never died. Later that year, Fireworks went on an indefinite hiatus.

As I mentioned before, so much can be said in depth about every song on The Upsides. The record is the perfect invitation for a dozen “It’s just so…” sentence starters about why it’s so monumental. For me, it’s amazing to see how much the band has grown and haven’t failed to remind fans that The Wonder Years make you feel like you have somebody. And that’s so special. I can always play it when I’m feeling nostalgic or feeling like adding new memories to the lasting ones I have with it.

Kayla Carmicheal | @kaylacarmicheal

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