From the opening rippling chord of ‘Brothers’ it’s clear that Campbell and company are going to take you on an emotionally crushing journey. This is defined by the potent, guilt-ridden line of “we’re no saviours, if we can’t save our brothers” giving way to ‘Cardinals’. Dominated Campbell’s tale of regret and selfishness, the track kick-starts the album on almighty high. It begs to be played repeatedly with the aforementioned line transforming into one that is triumphant.
Like on previous releases, Campbell’s deeply personal lyrics dominate throughout, with the theme of near-death popping up throughout (see ‘A Song for Patsy Cline’ and ‘A Song for Ernest Hemingway’). Yet it’s on ‘Cigarette & Saints’ where they’re perhaps their most heart-wrenching. Eased in by organs and Campbell’s bitter and agonizing voice, it glows in the chorus with ringing chords as Campbell bursts with an emotional release of guilt and grief. It defines the type of band The Wonder Years are. One that is mature and introspective.
Musically, tracks like ‘The Bluest Things on Earth’ and ‘I Don’t Like Who I Was Then’ (with its lyrical nod to 80s indy wrestling – nice work) are vintage Wonder Years with their lively approach. Their recognizable knack for pulling listeners in through pounding verses towards a big, euphoric release in the chorus is always pleasing to hear.
The album peaks with ‘Stained Glass Ceilings’. Fuelled by bitter and anger, Campbell questions, “Maybe I could have done something?” as he venomously takes on the subject of been anchored in American society before letlive.’s Jason Aalon Butler triumphantly bursts in a fully-fledged lyrical attack, redefining the track’s emotional rawness (“I am the ghetto’s chosen one. The privileged bastard son.”)
However, later tracks allow TWY to show their musical growth. ‘You in January’ details a head-over-heels romance (“You were the one thing I got right”), ‘Palm Reader’ is uplifting and celebratory (“I’m gonna clear my throat and speak out, unafraid”) and the closing title track is a soft, reflective song that is lyrically crushing as Campbell considers himself a failure yet seems willing to improve himself.
Without a doubt, this isn’t a record packed with anxiety anthems that instantly jump out at you. It’s a record that demands your full attention. Admittedly, at first it doesn’t have a significant impact. Yet after a handful of listens, you start to appreciate and admire Campbell and company’s direction. One that is bigger, focused, more dynamic and, at times, darker. Though there are moments of elation, it takes you on an emotional rollercoaster. Its lyrical substance and range of subjects are thoroughly demanding yet rewarding.
In conclusion, ‘No Closer To Heaven’ sees a band continue to grow alongside its expanding fanbase. The Wonder Years sound at home in their maturing skin. A skin that is defiant and optimistic simultaneously.
‘No Closer To Heaven’ by The Wonder Years is out now on Hopeless Records.
Words by Sean Reid (@SeanReid86)