Courtesy of Hopeless Records

February 17, 2020

TEST SPIN | The Wonder Years — ‘Burst and Decay (Volume II)’

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The thing about historical rewrites in music is that as a fan, there’s almost no way to accept it. Changing the meaning of a song years after its release never sits well — it’s had so long to live with you, for you to develop your own relationship with it, that makes you want to reject the new version just on principle. I didn’t want to like this project. Their album The Greatest Generation is an album I would wear like a kevlar vest when I would worry about having an anxious day in high school. I’ve already established all these memories to their music — why would I want them to change it? But the thing about a rewrite is that it allows the original story to change and adapt to where you’ve come since you last heard the project.
“We Look Like Lightning” is my personal favorite from the project. The bridge of this song is some of their greatest work, but it completely flew over my head until I heard the Burst and Decay version of the track. It’s deeply self-referential, and the way this version strips everything down and isolates the vocals puts it in the spotlight. Each lyric is a reference to an older song, which feels like a gift to their most dedicated fans.
The original version of “Passing Through a Screen Door” is distraught and hectic, describing how a quarter life crisis snuck up on lead singer Dan Campbell and how he feels left behind by not starting a family in his late 20s. The Burst and Decay version, though, is broken, like he just finished crying and realized that there is no concrete solution to the feeling of being left behind. In between the two versions, he’s gotten married and had a son, which makes the brokenness of him singing “I don’t want my children/ growing up to be/anything like me” all the more haunting. The resignation that he sings with as he reflects also highlights the song’s initials — PTSD.

 

“The bags under my eyes have the space when you bottom out/to pack your bags and make a break for the door” was a lyric that stuck with me, and the more I dig into it, the more I find. The first half is a reference to 2012’s “Woke Up Older,” only this time, the perspective of the lyric is flipped. The second half is a reference to “Passing Through a Screen Door,” a track which is reworked later on Burst and Decay II. This self-referentialism is one of the things that makes The Wonder Years so unique. Every song is layered and connected to so many other songs throughout their discography, and when they’re paired with how intensely personal the lyrics are, it feels like they’re welcoming you into their own universe. With re-releases like the Burst and Decay series, this universe is ever-expanding, and each track consistently takes on new meaning as it is tied in to new tracks and new versions of tracks.
Looking at Burst and Decay II from the outside, it still feels very bizarre that a pop punk band would bring in orchestral accompaniment and make it work. But this is The Wonder Years, and if anything, this project also showcases how uniquely talented each individual member is. Every album version of their songs hit you like a wall of sound, but the stripped down versions show you how intricate every piece is and how well each member of the sextet builds off each other. Drummer Mike Kennedy stands out in particular — he’s punk’s heir to Keith Moon, but he’s just as talented at dynamic contrast and playing space as he is at creating impossible drum licks.
If I could rank Burst and Decay II better than perfect, I would. While it’s near-perfect musically, what really sets it apart is the fact that it made me rethink the majority of their discography. I wrote off the first Burst and Decay as a one-off acoustic EP between albums, but listening to II, I realized that it’s so much more than that. These aren’t acoustic covers at all, they’re entirely different versions of the same songs, giving you different perspectives and changing the original meaning to the point where I wonder if there’s more that I’m missing.

 

Daniel Moran is a junior in the College of Human Ecology. He currently serves as the assistant arts editor on The Sun’s board. He can be reached at dmoran@cornellsun.com.