This is a miserable goddamn record.
Fame has not treated PUP well. Its two-part 2016 breakthrough The Dream is Over was a barn-burning, rip-roaring punk effort that screeched hooks left and right, finally giving the Canadians a studio effort that matched their live verve. But the title also referred to a fateful conversation between front man Stefan Babcock and his doctor, who told him his yowling was destroying his vocal cords. It was meant to be a swansong, a farewell to dying timber towns, the band’s own friendships (“If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will”) and Babcock’s declining health. But instead they landed in the upper echelon of this decade’s punk scene and Babcock screamed on.
After all of that, the follow up Morbid Stuff ain’t triumphant. It’s somehow even more nihilistic than The Dream is Over which wasn’t exactly an ELO record. “I got stuck on death and dying and obsessive thoughts,” Babcock howls to begin the record. Corroded, Thin Lizzy duel guitar leads dot the album, an automatic call to put the lighters up, but they shine on a work of loathing.
“Just ‘cause you’re sad again/ It doesn’t mean you’re special” the gang vocals go, PUP screaming at themselves. Even in the sea of self-hatred that Jeff Rosenstock, Priests and AJJ bob in, PUP commits to a grand wallowing. “If I can’t support the two of us/ How can I support a third?” Babcock yowls. Fatalist punk is nothing new, but there’s something unnerving about just how committed Babcock is to his own destruction. That comes both from the couplets of disgust (“‘You’ve been drinking!’/ Well of course I have!”) and his desperate squawks. There’s a nasty feeling that the cyst his doc warned of is going to burst at any moment. Both physically and mentally, it’s hard not to be deeply worried for Babcock. With PUP’s abundance of charisma, it’s easy to be drawn into their emotional exorcism. Morbid Stuff will make you feel alive one moment, completely empty the next.
Outside of the utter wasteland of “Full Blown Meltdown,” which matches the title in acidic music and lyrics, Morbid Stuff is also a sickeningly catchy album. These are not typically words one hums along to aimlessly, but PUP’s sterling pop chops makes it impossible not to. Lead single “Kids” is a love song Nietzsche would approve of. Babcock has a downright dovish conversation with his partner that begins with “Your little songs are getting way too literal/ How about some goddamn subtlety for a change?” But they refuse. “Scorpion Hill” drunkenly stumbles like the world’s most depressing campfire singalong. As the song rushes to a frenzied climax PUP chant “She said, “I found the gun, it was buried beneath piles of clothes in the room where your son sleeps/ And I can’t pretend, to know how this will end,” which might be the bleakest damn lyric of the decade.
Closer “City” is the spiritual successor to The Dream is Over’s pivotal “Pine Point,”
which toured a Canadian ghost town. PUP wraps up this album in some nameless metropolis, high, broken and weeping in an apartment. With the door locked, they might as well be in that forgotten village, considering how far away they are from human contact. They’ve grown, gaining more fans, playing bigger venues, but the depression that has grown with them is now stadium-sized.
This is a miserable goddamn record. PUP can’t do anything but supercharge their music with jolts of frenzy and Babcock has a streak of humor, but it’s a crumbling façade. As the minor key howl of “City” spins itself to death, we’re left with the broken pieces of a life decimated by hopelessness. The energy on Morbid Stuff is enough to power a city block, but when the music fades, you’ll be left desolated.