No Closer To Heaven is The Wonder Years’ fifth studio album and is the follow up to their LP The Greatest Generation from 2013. It tackles many of the themes we’ve seen Soupy visit in previous albums, such as depression, drugs, racism, suicide and loss, but for me his words are more hard hitting this time around.
Upon first listening to the album the thing that struck me most was that it had such a familiar feel to it, yet at the same time felt like a new direction for The Wonder Years. It’s still the same Pop-Punk sextet that we’re used to, but their sound has a deeper level of maturity, and it’s hard to see how songs such as ‘A Song For Patsy Cline’ would have fit into previous albums. Where The Greatest Generation favoured frantic guitars often coming at you in a wall of sound, this album seems to err on the side of space. The echoes of previous albums can still clearly be heard in tracks such as ‘Cardinals’, ‘You In January’ and ‘I Don’t Like Who I Was Then’, but it is nice to hear them move away from the more tried and tested Pop-Punk formula that is present throughout all their work. No Closer To Heaven feels more intricately constructed and perhaps also more thought out.
The area where this album excels most is in it lyricism. Soupy’s lyrical ability has improved massively since The Greatest Generation, and you can see this progression through his solo project under the alias ‘Aaron West’, which was released in between the two latest albums. ‘Cigarettes and Saints’ has some lyrical highlights for me. The track deals with Soupy’s grieving process after the loss of a close friend and contains some great imagery. “I’m sure there ain’t a heaven/But that don’t mean I don’t like to picture you there/I’ll bet you’re bumming cigarettes off saints” is a personal highlight but I also love “I’ll bury you memories in the garden/And watch them grow with the flowers in spring”. Both these sets of lyrics have almost a trivial nature to them, with the latter using a simple, everyday image to beautifully portray the huge step of Soupy putting the death of his friend behind him without forgetting him completely.
A track that excels musically is the single, ‘Cardinals’. It starts with an ethereal feel in the intro track ‘Brothers &’, before coming in firm and punchy with the song itself. The use of the calm intro ‘Brothers &’ is nice, creating a lot of tension and building up to the heavy hitting guitar riff which as catchy as we’ve come to expect from The Wonder Years. At the same time it also builds you up emotionally and this trend is continued into the single, which is 3:14 of pure emotion. Again, this song is directed to Soupy’s late friend, but also functions as a reflection on himself. The chorus sees Soupy asking his friend for forgiveness, while also touching on the fact that he himself has suffered from the depression that his close friend felt.
No Closer To Heaven excels as an album. Although it may not be what many would traditionally view as uplifting, it manages to achieve this in an unusual manner. Over the course of the album we are taken on a lyrical and psychological journey. Soupy has a fantastic maturity in the way he deals with sensitive issues such as depression and loss, and above all else, you can feel in his voice that he identifies with what he is saying. Unlike his solo project, this album is album is a journey through Soupy’s mind and the difficulties he has faced and also overcome. It’s the resilience in Soupy’s state of mind that is so powerful. From start to finish it is polished, hard hitting, and filled to the brim with emotion in a way that is rare to find in a lot of music nowadays.