REVIEW: The Wonder Years – ‘No Closer To Heaven’

No Closer To Heaven

Artist: The Wonder Years
Album: No Closer To Heaven
Genre: Pop-Punk

I’ll be honest–when I first accepted the responsibility of reviewing The Wonder Years‘ fifth full-length record, No Closer To Heaven, I was a tad nervous. Like the entirety of their back catalogue, the Philly sextet’s 2013 effort, The Greatest Generation, was utterly airtight, and over the past two years, had grown to become one of my favorite albums of all time. It was sincere, it was thought-provoking, and above all else, it connected with me on a level that few albums have since. In many ways, I dreaded the release of its follow-up, fearing that it would fall short of its predecessor, and I would be forced to share my disappointment with the internet.

SPOILER: all my worrying was for nothing.

The Wonder Years are ahead of the curve in many ways, but perhaps the most impressive aspect of this band is how they’ve managed to expand their sound while still retaining a devoted fan base, a feat that is virtually unheard of amidst the double-edged expectations of the pop-punk community. While this is surely due in part to Dan Campbell‘s sharp lyrical wit, the group’s endless appeal can also be attributed to a progression made in baby steps rather than leaps and bounds. This sonic shift comes to a head on No Closer To Heaven, which pays homage to the band’s earlier undertakings while still managing to feel like a logical step forward. “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then” boasts a monster chorus that would’ve felt right at home on 2010’s The Upsides, but shines brighter than past anthems due to its technicality and poise. “Thanks For The Ride” and the record’s lead single “Cardinals,” follow a similar blueprint, showcasing all that TWY have to offer in ways that somehow feel more premeditated than in the past. It’s a transformation that’s been in the works for some time, and being honest, it’s really pretty great; regardless of topic or placement, each song plays an integral role in the outfit’s newest narrative, making for a release that is both enthralling and easy to swallow.

There are also an equal number of instances where Campbell and company willingly embrace the unexpected. “Stained Glass Ceilings,” which features a very awesome guest appearance by Jason Aalon Butler (letlive.), is built upon smart guitar work and overtly political subject matter, resulting in what is arguably the album’s most powerful listen. Instrumentally, the band has also upped the ante, as is apparent on “Palm Reader,” a rhythmic oddity fully-equipped with a far-reaching refrain, and “I Wanted So Badly To Be Brave,” which contains some delightfully punchy percussion.

Additionally, it would be impossible to talk about No Closer To Heaven without noting Dan Campbell’s one-of-a-kind word wielding. Throughout TWY’s latest LP, the 28-year-old frontman expounds love, loss and heartache in a manner that is second to none. While it may not always be clear just who or what Campbell is referring to, his taste for the transparent is undeniable, allowing listeners to fill the gaps in his monologue with their own personal experiences. For me, such a moment came at the peak of the album’s second single, “Cigarettes & Saints,” when he professes, “I’m sure there ain’t a heaven, but that don’t mean that I don’t like to think of you there.” As someone who has always felt at odds with faith, this particular idiom hit me square in the gut; it was a feeling that had brought me to my knees more times than I cared to remember, and one which I had never been able to put into words on my own. The fact that someone else shared in this outlook was humbling in itself, but the way that Dan sincerely illustrated this clash of ideals was moving beyond words. It’s the type of relatable, unfiltered honesty that is so desperately sought by all musicians, and Dan Campbell makes it look easy.

There may never be an album that clicks with me quite like The Greatest Generation, but make no mistake–No Closer To Heaven is an absolutely phenomenal record. It defies genre tropes with ease, but does so with a surgeon’s precision, frequently braving newfound territories while still making a point to tread familiar ground. Rather than leaving fans in the rearview, The Wonder Years have grown alongside their listeners, and in the process affirmed their place at the head of the alternative music scene.

SCORE: 9.5/10

No Closer To Heaven hits shelves today via Hopeless Records–snag a copy of your own here.

Kyle Florence

Kyle Florence is a proud Wisconsinite, a dinosaur enthusiast, and a lover of all things weird and whacky.
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  • Robert Hopkirk

    Great review man, I felt exactly the same about ‘The Greatest Generation’ and was going into this album with a great deal of anticipation and it really didn’t disappoint! Dan Campbell is a hero!

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  • Merle

    Great review. I can’t say it topped TGG but I can’t say it was worse either. They have four of the best albums of all time. I don’t know how they do it.