Favorite Tracks: “Kids,” “Free At Last,” “See You at Your Funeral,” “Scorpion Hill,” “Sibling Rivalry,” “Bare Hands”
MORBID STUFF, the third album from Toronto punk band PUP, is waking up on a cold and bleak winter morning and remembering you don’t have work that day; there’s a cathartic release even though your heat was cut the night before, you’re afraid you might freeze to death the second you get out of bed, and you definitely don’t have more than a few packets of tea and maybe some stale cereal in your cupboard, but at least you can lie there a few minutes longer. PUP have always had a knack for capturing depression, tragedy, and self-destruction with upbeat, fun punk songs that form a self-reflective commentary. That juxtaposition has lent itself to rich and layered music that also makes you want to throw yourself back into the pit (even if you know you’re too old and will for sure pull a muscle… not speaking from personal experience or anything…). Frontman Stefan Babcock tackles big, dark subjects with frenetic, uptempo, cacophonous, punk rock, allowing for a nuanced and textured approach to some, frankly, really dark shit. While this style of writing through crushing self-deprecation is not new to the band (their 2016 sophomore album, THE DREAM IS OVER, is a perfect example, and dare I say it, a near-perfect album), it continues to come through on the aptly named MORBID STUFF, which harbors more than just the anticipated level of self-loathing, and sinks into exploring self, a metaphysical void of depression, creation, and what it means to harvest raw flesh for art. Oh, and it’s a fuck-ton of fun.
Not only are these sonically tight songs apt for the pop-punk scene with energetic drums, exhilarating guitar riffs, and catchy, cheeky refrains, there is nothing less than poetry at hand. Babcock weaves witty satire with lines rife with imagery, motifs, and exquisite wording. In “Bare Hands” he uses the phrase “And now I’m rolling your words through my cheeks / Like a mouth full of poison,” rolling distilled beauty to the delivery of “your words through my cheeks.” In “Kids,” the intro is doing a lot of work, eking out every drop in the verse with his precisely selected phrases, such as “mind-numbing reality of a godless existence”—there is so much in there, and it’s so precisely worded. The use of imagery and motifs is generous, especially his revisiting of winter and snow. In the beginning of “Scorpion Hills,” he paints a picture: “passing me by in the pale moonlight / And I sat there forever, three sheets to the wind.” And in “Sibling Rivalry,” he uses visceral imagery to set the scene: “the smell of old decay is seeping into my sweater.” The motif of fire, more specifically of the world burning, draws upon the album cover of THE DREAM IS OVER, and the stylized art of a campfire on the single cover of “Sibling Rivalry.” This use of language, this stacking of the lyrical deck, this extraction of every ounce of verbage, gives a depth to the sadness and despair that makes it all the more gut-wrenching, visceral, and relatable when you connect with it.
And what PUP are singing about is tragic. Even when it’s not a specific event or moment, the idea of existing in the mind-space of these songs is heartbreaking, when the oft-light and cynical approach sucks a bit of that poison out and there’s a beautiful tragedy left behind. The restless inability to live with oneself, or to feel the empty void of depression, is not a new territory to explore, for the band or world at large, but it’s a beautiful rendering of that pain here.
Here is the junction where this album sends me off the rails a little, an existential spiral of morality and depression that this fun punk album inspired when I got a little too close. MORBID STUFF, despite being as light and for-the-people as it is, touches on serious, big-picture questions that become more and more glaring the closer you look. Disillusionment, grappling with the romanticization and fetishization of depression, both from an internal and external stand-point, what it means to ask an artist to leave wounds raw to feed the art we demand, if we are even asking that of artists by consuming—each circled thoughts and questions that have no beginning or end or answer, some of which don’t even want an answer or simply shouldn’t have an answer. MORBID STUFF asks questions that probably don’t need to be asked through a punk rock album, but are sitting right there for the taking, because that’s what happens when an album takes a look at itself and its creation and adds to the conversation.
“Full Blown Meltdown” is the best example of this self-reflection, and posits the most questions on morality. Up until the second verse, the song in generally reflective of who the voice is as a person: “I’m still a loser and always will be / So why change now?” But then it jumps head-first into the idea of glossy treatments of depression (“How long will self-destruction be alluring”), what that means for the art, the creation of art (“It’s good for business and baby business is booming / I’ll be sure to write it down / When I hit rock bottom / For all the people who love to fetishize problems”), and where glamorous takes on internal and external despair and the utilization of that as fuel for art meet (“And to tell the truth / I fetishize them too / It’s pretty messed up, isn’t it?”). And then there’s self-awareness that all of this is “pretty messed up”: “And make no mistake / I know exactly what I’m doing / I’m just surprised / the world isn’t sick / Of grown men whining like children.” All of which sends me into existential spiral of the false salvation born of an internal fetishization of our own broken selves. But this is what happens when someone too close to the subject matter stares straight at the sun.
What’s most important is that there is a really solid album here. It’s nuanced, it has layers, it can be consumed both for enjoyment on the surface, as well as having meat below for those willing to look. The production is perhaps a tad tamer than on THE DREAM IS OVER, slightly smoother in places and not leaning into the aggressive scream-along side they often portray, truly only wailing full-frontal punk on “Full Blown Meltdown.” But there’s nothing watered-down here, only maturing along a natural progression. Whatever you’re looking for in your punk rock pleasures, MORBID STUFF, packed with morsels and meat, is worth more than a cursory listen.