April 13 Weekly 40-Watt #14: PUP's 'Morbid Stuff'

Weekly 40-Watt is a feature where I listen to an album or band, new or old, for the first time and jot down some notes on it.

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It seems like there’s going to be a new album from The Menzingers released this year, so instead of saying that PUP released my most anticipated punk record of 2019, I have to say that PUP released my second most anticipated punk record of 2019 instead. Morbid Stuff is PUP’s third album, preceded by 2013’s Pup and 2016’s The Dream Is Over. Both of those albums are very good and so is this one.

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Lyrically, some PUP songs have this special type of way of transmitting genuine depression, anxiety, anger, fear or some mixture of the above with a tongue-in-cheek manner or dry, dark humor. This is a real gift, because a lot of PUP songs are loud and fast and catchy, and it’s genuinely easier to yell along if the lyrics are sometimes fun in nature themselves. This is how PUP’s singer, Stefan Babcock, finds himself going from “I hope you're doing fine on your own” to “I hope somehow I never see you again / And if I do it's at your funeral or better yet / I hope the world explodes / I hope that we all die” in the track “See You At Your Funeral.”

I wrote about The Dream Is Over a couple of times in 2016. When I first wrote about the album, I was thinking about how PUP had entered into this state where they could play some relatively slower, moodier songs and how that represented growth or whatever. But I like what I said when I wrote about it a second time more, when I thought they had “gone and mastered the art of controlled chaos” on songs like “Can’t Win” (in retrospect, my favorite song from The Dream Is Over) and “Sleep In The Heat.” This sentiment is more applicable to Morbid Stuff, too, because most of the tracks here just start out fast and angry rather than building up toward a cathartic culmination like most bands feel that they have to do.

The first verse of the album’s first song lets you know what you’re in for as quickly as you could hope:

I was bored as fuck
Sitting around and thinking all this morbid stuff
Like if anyone I’ve slept with is dead and I got stuck
On death and dying and obsessive thoughts that won’t let up
It makes me feel like I’m about to throw up

Gang vocals in the choruses and the batshit intense speed of the drumming are meant to place you in the basement where a lot of this type music is played, but Babcock and PUP have been at this for more than a few years now so there’s a type of gravity of lives in the process of being lived in the lyricism: “I still dream about you time and time again / While I've been sleeping in somebody else's bed / And as my body aged, the feeling, it never did.”

This one is followed by “Kids,” which is probably the closest thing to a love song that PUP has to offer. Babcock offers a catchy-as-hell refrain, because despite the fact that members of PUP are extremely good at their instruments and aren’t afraid to show it, and despite the fact that all of these songs try to end as fast as possible, this band has always been truly elite at melody: “I guess it doesn't matter anyway / I don't care about nothing but you.” PUP albums always have a couple of hits for the youth on them; “Kids” is this album’s “DVP” or “Reservoir.” This blend is something that only PUP can pull off, at least this well. It’s what keeps me coming back and often makes PUP feel like one of those bands that was made just for me and for my tastes. At their peaks, the choruses are addictive; but regularly, this band plays with a near-mathy technical ability often associated with groups like A Wilhelm Scream and other bands that are more known for their musicianship than anything else. It’s because PUP can do both things that they aren’t a “band’s band” or a niche punk thing; they’re amongst the most well-rounded punk bands you could ever hope to find.

One of my favorite examples of the controlled chaos in action on Morbid Stuff is during the one-minute-mark of “Scorpion Hill,” a song that comes in at track five which is where you think a human band might decide to temper things down a bit and toss in a slow dance for the old folks in the back. The slow part at the beginning, though, serves as only a narrator’s intro and is quickly discarded in favor of a dark song in double-time. “Scorpion Hill” is one of the most striking on the album, painting a genuinely dark picture of a bad moment in a life of addiction; here, “I’ve been having some pretty dark thoughts / Yeah, I like them a lot” feels more like ominous, inevitable foreboding than the comparatively offhand mention of the world exploding on “See You At Your Funeral.”

This is one of those albums where I want to write a bit about nearly every song, but I fucking hate doing that so I’m gonna skip around. “Closure” and “Bare Hands” are my other two favorites here, but I’m not gonna get to “Bare Hands” so just make sure you go listen to that one if you’ve read this far. “Closure” is really heavy, musically and lyrically; Babcock sings of dealing with death, spitting “I couldn't figure out why you were down in the cold dirt / Something doesn’t feel right / I need closure” before everything around him crashes down musically.

That heaviness carries over into “Bloody Mary, Kate and Ashley” and ultimately culminates in “Full Blown Meltdown,” a song that takes it title very literally. There’s a nearly nu-metal vibe going on, but it comes through in a very PUP way. Babcock’s vocals are as distorted as they’ve ever been here, but you can make out the low point easily enough: “I'm losing interest in self-help / Equally bored of feeling sorry for myself / It's been a couple of days since I've had a full blown meltdown / But I'm still a loser and always will be / So why change now?” This goes right into a chugging outro that sounds like nothing else on any PUP album but fits right in all along.

PUP has a continual ability to place themselves in the shoes of young punks in suburban garages or city basements, an impressive thing for a band to do once they themselves have graduated to playing pretty big venues. The Dream Is Over was often about the hardships of touring, and while touring might get a bit easier from a logistical perspective as you start to grow and play larger spaces, there are mental and emotional pieces of it that won’t ever get easier as long as you’re leaving home for a month and a half at a time. Morbid Stuff should ensure PUP’s continued popularity, but it’s their eagerness and necessity to return to ground zero that serves as a lifeblood for them in general and especially on this Morbid Stuff, their best album to date. This is why a three-year wait between albums doesn’t feel at all unnecessary and it’s why a new PUP album will always feel like an urgent listen.