PUP – ‘The Unraveling of PUPTHEBAND’

By Andy Joice

The next release after a successful album can be a tricky one. After two successful albums, it’s even more difficult. For PUP, after releasing three almost flawless albums, they’ve left themselves an absolute mountain to climb to reach the Everest of heights they’ve set their standards at. Fortunately, they’re self-aware enough to know this and actively play up to their demise, and with ‘THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND’, they’ve created a record that’s chaotic, angst ridden and melodious in equal measure. In essence, it’s the purest form of PUP we’ve seen to date

Opening with ‘Four Chords’, a track that makes additional appearances later on in the record, vocalist Stefan Babcock explains how he’s invested all the money from the label into a piano, confident that him playing four basic chords will help excel their growth. After stumbling over the melody, the second half descends into an orchestra-tinged refrain that feels both refined and frantic. It’s a theme that’s common through a lot of PUP songs and this album in particular, dancing that thin line between messy and measured.

Rolling straight into ‘Totally Fine’ there’s a more classic PUP sound, with punchy choruses and chunky verses seasoned with liberal amounts of distortion as if from the fingertips of Salt Bae himself (yes, I’m making this reference 5 years too late). The first song written after a three month self-imposed break during lockdown, it both opens the creative floodgates, as well as introduces a plethora of special guests (Sarah Tudzin/illuminati hotties, Melanie St-Pierre/Casper Skulls, Kathryn McCaughey/NOBRO, Erik Paulson/Remo Drive) within the gang vocals who make semi-regular appearances again. Contextually, it’s as self-effacing and cynical as ever, with a chorus that’s sure to get crowds screaming it back at the Canadian four-piece.

Singles ‘Robot Writes A Love Song’ and ‘Matilda’ follow closely, chock full of their trademark humour in the face of sadness. While ‘Matilda’ is the more serious track, both depict Babcock’s long love for his (now unusable) guitar Matilda, as well as the death of a computer. There aren’t many bands that could write such touching songs about typically mundane subjects, but that’s the power of PUP.  Poignant and delicate, it’s easy to pull metaphors of human-to-human love and demise, despite the band having actually confirmed their real subject matters.

‘Relentless’ and ‘Habits’ discuss the grind of life and the inability to change. Lyrically, they’re as angsty and destructive as they’ve ever been, however ‘Habits’ features an electro-synth pattern (weird description but there’s an element of Adventure Time to it) that pushes a more experimental sounds than we would normally expect from them.

‘Cutting Off The Corners’ retains this more delicate sound and acts as a mild taste breaker. The gentlest song since ‘City’ from their 2019 album ‘Morbid Stuff’, it’s a straight heart on its sleeve power ballad. It might not be the catchiest track on the album but it’s certainly the one that will hit hardest.

Closing with ‘PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy’, PUP unleash their punkiest song. Braggadocious in nature, Babcock leans into the “sellout” nature of music, tongue firmly in cheek making references to their success but also their petulant nature. At their most inventive, lyrics such as “I used to be reckless and too broke to eat / Now all of my friends have bidets in their en-suites” really stand out as some of their sharpest. Featuring a messy brass refrain, an acoustic section and some of the most thunderous rhythms we’ve ever heard, this is the quartet pushing things to their absolute limit, with great success.

Look, it was always going to be tough for PUP to write an album as well regarded as their first three, however this fourth effort is a damn good shot at it. While some listeners might find the ‘Four Chords’ sections a little unnecessary, they act as a tie throughout the record. It’s as hard-hitting, reflective and self-effacing as ever, and that’s exactly what they wanted. If this is PUPTHEBAND Inc. selling out, shut up and take our money. We’re invested.

ANDY JOICE

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