The teenagers in Liverpool who supported The Beatles in their earliest, unpolished, rough-and-tumble days reluctantly had to accept the reality that they had to share their hometown boys with the rest of the world.
That’s the feeling of what’s happening with The Wonder Years’ sixth album, “Sister Cities,” which was released this month. The title track is getting support from both WXPN and iHeartMedia’s Radio 104.5, and years of touring internationally have made cosmopolitan global citizens of our hometown heroes. The new release on Hopeless Records by the emotive pop-punk combo includes references to Japan; the Irish Sea; the Montmartre Cemetery in Paris; the Andes; the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica; west Texas and other places.
One track, “We Look Like Lightning,” is about the horror of air-travel turbulence. Guess this means you won’t be finding recognizable spots in Lansdale and Hatfield in their videos anymore, like they did seven years ago with “Don’t Let Me Cave In” and “Local Man Ruins Everything.”
On the other hand, another new song, “Pyramids of Salt,” sounds exotic and cryptic; but the pyramids in question are merely large piles of the winter road-treatment agent.
Follow the progression. The album “Suburbia I’ve Given You All and Now I’m Nothing” was about owning one’s past, warts and all (The 52-second interlude song “Suburbia” makes unmistakable Lansdale-specific references to the 2007 Lans-Bowl fire and actor Andrew Bryniarski). In 2013 “The Greatest Generation” was a wail of frustration about finding one’s place in the world and the transition from youth to adulthood. Then in 2015 “No Closer to Heaven” had meditations on mortality and loss in the midst of youth.
With “Sister Cities” The Wonder Years are clearly all grown up. The opening line of “Heaven’s Gate (Sad and Sober)” is “I’ve been thinking a lot about/when the furnace goes,” for goodness sake.
Also, they’re playing ballads now. “Flowers Where Your Face Should Be,” “It Must Get Lonely” and “When the Blue Finally Came” starkly contrast with the band’s usual guitar bombast.
And yet there are still those nagging feelings of sadness and anxiety, and the occasional earnest pledge to make things better. Just like on “No Closer to Heaven,” death is a recurring theme. “Too much of a coward to even visit your grave. You’re half awake, and I bought you a radio to play the blues away. With my hand to hold, you asked about the weather. Wish they’d let you die at home,” songwriter Dan Campbell sings in the opener, “Raining in Kyoto.”
“It must get obvious enough that I’m not ever gonna change. It must get obvious enough that I’m the one who stays,” he sings in “It Must Get Lonely.” But has this local band become like a childhood friend that’s moved on without you?
That very thought sounds like a Wonder Years song from circa 2010-2011.
We’ll see what happens when the tour to support “Sister Cities” reunites them with their Philly faithful at the Fillmore June 8 and 9.