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PUP - Morbid Stuff Music Album Reviews

On their long-awaited follow-up to their breakthrough sophomore effort, the pop-punk band embraces the liberating power of anger.

In PUP, there is only one rule: the People’s Champ can never win. The Canadian quartet's sophomore album, the loudly beloved The Dream is Over, brought them perilously close to the kind of success that would strip them of underdog status forever: They made an album about the comprehensive mental, physical, and financial toll of touring constantly for two years straight, and their reward was...getting to do the same exact thing for even longer, in larger venues. The dream wasn’t over, it just stuck around long enough to prove hollow. As a result, Morbid Stuff is the angriest PUP has ever sounded. But it’s not a cry for help. It’s a cry of freedom, the sound of a band realizing that anger is liberating when depression is intractable and incurable—we’re not broken, so why bother trying to fix it?

Many PUP songs thrash towards a record-scratch/freeze frame moment where frontman Stefan Babcock becomes far too pissed off to bother with singing anymore. On Morbid Stuff, a lot of songs just begin at this place. During the bridge of “Full Blown Meltdown,” Babcock hectors, “I’m losing interest in self-help/Equally bored of feeling sorry for myself.” It’s Morbid Stuff distilled to an emotional concentrate, and a song that sounds like nothing they’ve ever done before: As the last great band to ever appear on Warped Tour, PUP have always boasted profoundly unfashionable influences, and “Full Blown Meltdown” wraps itself in sonic JNCOS—slap bass as thick as Tim Commerford’s lat muscles, a chugging circle pit coda scented by Toxicity, the unchecked aggro lyricism of nu-metal.

Though PUP are from Toronto, they’ve always channeled the perspective of the sheltered suburban loser for whom every social interaction is a chance to stoke their inferiority complex. “I was getting high in the van in St. Catharine’s/While you were rubbing elbows in the art scene,” Babcock sneers at an unnamed frienemy on the title track. However, the greatest and most frequently suffered indignity in PUP songs is simply seeing someone getting on with a relatively normal existence. On “See You At Your Funeral,” Babcock is in the grocery store, presumably living his best life— “buying organic foods/making healthy selections”—until he spots an ex; by the end of the song, he’s rooting for a televised apocalypse. Minutes earlier on “Free At Last”, Babcock is at Tim Hortons at 5 AM, prompting Charly Bliss’ Eva Hendricks to deliver 2019’s greatest one-line cameo: “Have you been drinking?” Babcock: “Well of course I have!”

Punk bands dedicated to the most immediate impact aren't expected to take three years between albums, but PUP justify the long hiatus after The Dream is Over with a craftsmanship that’s the only subtle thing about them. Even if guitar solos and hyperspeed drumming are welcome in this kind of punk rock, outright technical proficiency is viewed the same suspicion as a keg of Michelob Ultra. PUP balance wrath and math on Morbid Stuff’s most agitated songs—their favorite trick is faking a 4/4 riff and cutting measures a beat short, turning “Morbid Stuff” and “Blood Mary, Kate and Ashley” into highlight reels of every time a guy in a skate video faceplants after catching a curb a split second too soon. Before releasing their single “Free At Last,” they posted the song’s chord charts and lyrics, to see if any of their fans would cover it “without hearing it first.” Of the 253 bands that responded, none were boy bands, but I wish one had dared to try—on their biggest choruses, these guys are like Max Martin with gang vocals.

Still, it's somehow possible to miss the challenging message PUP are trying to get across. Their acceptance of anger as a gift is nonetheless a bold gesture at a time when the language of self-care has become fetishized and commercialized—the gang yells “just cause you’re sad again, it doesn’t make you special at all” at least a dozen times during “Free At Last,” and we can take the song’s rapturous reception as proof that it’s a message that fans wanted to hear as much as they needed to. It’s possible to work towards improvement while feeling like a total fucking loser—your shrink calls that a dialectic, and Morbid Stuff is 37 minutes of safe, sweaty space to process your worst feelings when a half-assed meltdown just won’t cut it.

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