Rating – 4.5/5
Release Date – 14th February 2020
The Wonder Years take a second foray into re-imagining songs from across their back catalogue with Burst and Decay Vol II; the results are greater than the sum of its parts.
The first acoustic EP, of the same name, gave us a taste of the band’s ability to rearrange and create different tracks taken from their previous discography. This was not just an EP of alternative acoustic recordings, a collection of bonus tracks added to an album as an afterthought. Rather, Campbell was given the opportunity to flex his creative muscles, building on the songwriting work of The Roaring Twenties and came back to the fans with some really brilliant alternative tracks to supplement the originals.
The second EP delivers the same experience and builds on it with some fantastic track choices; the high octane intensity on ‘Screen Door’ is replaced by a slow-burning acoustic rendition with the screaming vocals traded in for a muted, yet emotional performance. The track builds towards the end and finally, Dan allows his range to open up and hammer home the final chorus.
The opening of the album with ‘Washington Square Park’ is a brave choice; a staple from The Upsides and probably the song that shows the most deviation from the original. The low-fi synths bubble underneath the clean fingerpicked motif are departures from the crunchy, scooped mids we’re used to from the guitars. The chorus is reminiscent of the work on Sister Cities, the layered vocal harmonies give the track that anthemic feeling whilst remaining soothing and warm.
Of course for the final time around, Dan opens up his vocals and reintroduces a strangled rendition of the chorus. Similarly on ‘It Must Get Lonely’ there isn’t much of a departure from the original track on Sister Cities, the overall texture of the song remains; a slower ballad that meanders along until Dan reintroduces the harsh, high vocals. It’s a theme that repeats itself throughout the album, you could argue it gets slightly formulaic by the end, but on some of the tracks, the effect is even more powerful.
Having said that, the stripping back of the tracks does add another dimension; The Wonder Years don’t need to completely reinvent what makes these songs great in the first place. Subtle harmonic changes across the tracklist will give listeners a good deal more to enjoy upon repeated listening.
‘I Wanted So Badly to be Brave’ is transformed from a slightly forgettable track hidden amongst the work on No Closer To Heaven, to a beautiful lament with a slightly folky feel, backed by muted trumpets and clean, warm electric piano. The final line hangs in the air and then segues silkily into the suspended chords of ‘Screen Door’. It’s touches like this that makes you feel like the band really agonised over which tracks to pick and how to present them. We’re able to experience these tracks differently not only audibly, but thematically.
Drawing from material across the discography ties the concept together and delivers to the listener a new perspective on these songs, and perhaps encourages us to go back and rediscover some old favourites, or even find some new favourites.
Overall, fans of the band will find plenty here to keep them entertained, and new inductees will enjoy perhaps the broader appeal of the acoustic renditions and softer vocals; whilst still retaining that passion and emotion that makes the Wonder Years so relatable.
Review by Theo Wildgoose