The Wonder Years Go Where Pop-Punk Rarely Has: Parenthood

The Wonder Years Go Where Pop-Punk Rarely Has: Parenthood

Dan Campbell lifted his 3-year-old son, Wyatt, into his lap and kissed him goodnight. Behind them, the orange May evening slipped between the trees in their fenced backyard. The South Jersey suburb was quiet, save for a few cicadas and the occasional distant car, though Philly bustled only a few miles west. After Wyatt followed his mom, Campbell’s wife Alison, and baby brother Jack inside, the 36-year-old Wonder Years frontman slouched a denim shirt over his white tee, and lowered his voice. “I kind of imagined that having Wyatt would be the panacea I’ve been looking for my whole life, the answer to this longstanding boredom.” He paused, then shook his head. “It was not the instantaneous carefree joy that I was hoping for. But it is the answer. It’s the purpose for everything now.”

The propulsive second track on the pop-punk veterans’ forthcoming seventh album is called “Wyatt’s Song (Your Name).” Over cascades of cymbals and dueling guitars, following the hook he co-wrote with Blink-182’s Mark Hoppus, Campbell belts, “I’ve never been so afraid of failing at anything, and I’m glad that you don’t know how bad it is.” The Hum Goes On Foreverout in September, is an ambitious concept album about parenthood, its attendant anxieties and ecstasies, whose wizened candor challenges what we’ve come to expect from pop-punk.

Since their formation in 2005, the Wonder Years have sweetened heady interrogations of grief and self-destruction with seismic breakdowns and moshable bridges—“deeply distressed lyrics over major keys,” Campbell described. While The Hum‘s sonic textures sustain the band’s signature irreverence and the waves of boardwalk-asphalt pop-punk that preceded it, the subject matter—the complexities and treacheries of raising children—is novel, not only for the Wonder Years, but for the genre at wide. “Every album needs to be an honest depiction of how I’m feeling and what I’m going through,” Campbell told me, behind the wheel of his Kia hybrid whose leather interior sometimes ferries roadie gear, other times booster seats.

The so-called mainstream resurgence of “pop-punk” on the charts has invited questions about what the label signifies, and how, with its history of misogyny, it might be redeemed, or repurposed. The genre’s appeals to nostalgia drive anniversary-tour ticket sales, but have too often damned it to suffer from the arrested development it chronicles: Peter Pans in khakis and flannel, exaggerating their (usually white) suburban works. The Y2K soundscape of Epitaph Records (Green Day, the Offspring) and Fueled By Ramen (Jimmy Eat World, Fall Out Boy) that gave way to bands like the Wonder Years emerged from a climate of discontent—sometimes vaguely political, often nonspecific and insular —and was fomented by two primary emotions, angst and apathy. It was the Bush-cum-Jackass era of fuck you and I do not care.

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