Whether we like it or not, life has a way of telling us what to do. One can’t say certain things, act in a certain way, wear certain kinds of clothes, or act upon their most carnal desires because we all have to follow what society considers acceptable. Most of the time, it’s a good thing.
However, within these superficial constraints, there’s a part in us all seeking to defy these social norms. This tiny anti-establishment flame ignites when we go against the grain. It could be as mundane as making a right turn at an intersection without making a complete stop or as violent as rioting in the streets and rallying against a political movement. Some call it being punk, some call it feeling angsty, but whatever you call this tiny flame, it’s part of each and every one of us.
On PUP’s sophomore album The Dream Is Over, the Toronto punk group’s tiny flame becomes a wildfire destroying everything in its path, including themselves.
After being on the road for two years and playing close to 500 shows in support of their first record, frontman Stefan Babcock saw a doctor over a sore throat. Turns out his vocal chords were completely shredded and his dream of fronting a rock band was likely over. Where most bands would’ve been forced to call it quits, PUP decided to give the diagnosis the middle finger and, in true rock-&-roll fashion, headed straight into the studio to work on their follow-up LP, The Dream Is Over.
The album-opening cut “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” is a song dedicated to the bitter hatred band members develop for each other while on tour. Starting a record with this subject matter is a bold move and shatters any perception of camaraderie, but this vein of brutal honesty runs throughout The Dream Is Over, never letting up or showing any sign of weakness or vulnerability.
The entire album is driven by an unfiltered intensity which no other release this year has come close to matching. Simple themes like failed relationships or drunk-dialing your girlfriend’s sister are offered as fist-swinging, fight-club anthems, complete with shouted vocal choruses and chaotic guitar frenzies. This isn’t an emo “bros before hoes” revival, this is a band doing exactly what they want, without any compromises.
Sadly, that intensity comes at a price. While the first few songs are a jaw-breaking good time, the pacing collapses in on itself, over-saturating the listener. The Dream Is Over clocks in at just a little over a half an hour, so there isn’t enough time to let these songs develop into anything more than rock and roll shouting matches.
While it’s extremely fun, and maybe even a little therapeutic to hear grown men learning life isn’t always fair and smashing things in perseverance, there’s no real resolution here to the madness. Some of the later tracks are probably just as solid on their own as the opening songs, but by then the listener has already heard everything the album has to offer. In fact, they heard it about five minutes in. It’s not until the album’s closing sing “Pine Point” do we even get to hear anything that isn’t pedal to the metal punk rock.
Even with its ferocious delivery and despite a lack of variety, The Dream Is Over never comes off as whiny or petty. Most of us can relate to their subject matter and sympathize with band’s tantrums. In fact, the album’s destructive nature just may be what makes it special. It almost acting as a voice to people tired of society telling them what to do. The gloves are off and there’s nothing left to lose. They’re fighting each other, sure, but they’re also fighting the good fight alongside the listener.
Essentially PUP’s, The Dream Is Over is a savage album of compressed energy and calloused emotion.
It’ll knock your teeth down your throat and encourage you to hit back. It’s ugly, intense, and painful but still a whole lot of fun. PUP wasn’t trying to make the album of the year, but just a nice, thin piece of drywall for you to punch through when you’ve had a bad day. Which might just make it the album of the year.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.