*This review was composed by and edited by Erik van Rheenen
The greatest war stories of the Greatest Generation aren’t really about war. They’re about what happens after.
J.D. Salinger (I’m not him, and I’m over it — obligatory joke’s out of the way, guys) stormed the beaches of Normandy, but bottled his loss of innocence in Holden Caulfield, a teenage rebel who’s more concerned about where the Central Park ducks fly off to in the winter than, say, post-war America. Air Force bombardier Joseph Heller didn’t recount thrilling dogfights in Catch-22; his characters found themselves caught in a whirlwind of service and sanity. Kurt Vonnegut’s fictionalized self in Slaughterhouse Five is a flop of a sci-fi novelist. And so it goes.
Wars are never really over. You can’t just throw up your arms and say, “Fuck it, we won. I’m done fighting now.” Because even when Soupy Campbell bookends The Upsides with “I think we’ll all be OK” and Suburbia with the confident, Ginsbergian image of putting his shoulder to the wheel, there’s always going to be one more battle.
The Wonder Years’ wars — against depression and anxiety, against the trappings of suburban America, against the highway — miss the cinematic merits of the war that initiated the Greatest Generation. But wars are wars, and Soupy Campbell’s has always been a personal one, since “My First Semester’s” onslaught of “I’m not sad anymores.”
And The Greatest Generation feels like the most personal of the band’s albums yet; where the album lacks in catchy war cries like The Upsides or the callback-loaded familiarity of Suburbia, it doubles with heart. The album itself is battle-born, penned in a falling-apart room above an abandoned sandwich shop, every line, every note, every lyric fought for. The Wonder Years grew up on The Upsides and Suburbia, and step confidently and comfortably into full-fledged maturity on The Greatest Generation.
Where “My Last Semester” and “Came Out Swinging” opened their respective records in a blaze on anthematic glory, “There, There” starts softly with Campbell singing quietly over a thoroughly understated guitar riff. The floodgates don’t burst open until the second chorus. Campbell’s confessionals (“I’ve got my heart strung up on clothing line through tenement windows”) hit harder this time around.
The Greatest Generation finds Campbell enamored with — but defiantly refusing to romanticize — the album’s namesake. On “Passing Through a Screen Door” (look closer at those initials, if you missed it the first time around) Campbell equates his own fears with a “kid in the sixties / staring at the sky / waiting for the bomb to fall.”