PUP are a band who always teeter just on the brink of destruction. Frontman Stefan Babcock’s delivery shreds his vocal cords so much that a doctor once advised him to consider early retirement, while they’ve also recorded a song about wanting to off one another (2016’s matter-of-fact ‘If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, Then I Will’). The nihilistic Toronto punks are like a fucked-up tour van hurtling onwards, with all four wheels rattling as if they’ll fly off the axis at any second.
So, really, any PUP album thus far could have been named ‘THE UNRAVELING OF PUPTHEBAND’, but this one – their fourth – is the one on which they’ve truly addressed the chaos. They’re currently one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed bands in modern punk music – which, as their predecessors have found, can turn the self-destructive travelling circus lifestyle into a business and a brand.
On the piano-led intro to the album, ‘Four Chords’, lead vocalist Stefan Babcock winkingly refers to the four-piece as a “board of directors”, as he laments how pouring funds and effort into a labour of love only serves to make the cool kids turn their noses up. When the album proper kicks in with ‘Totally Fine’, it’s clear that PUP are still trading in the same brutally pissed off but unassailably catchy blasts of self-loathing. And, yes, it’s still as much fun as ever.
Babcock’s lyricism is never easy to pigeonhole. ‘Matilda’ is a heartbreak song from the perspective of his old, abandoned guitar: it’s a fun way to address the very real anxiety about losing their spontaneity and passion as PUP’s star rises. ‘Robot Writes A Love Song’ is an even wackier creative exercise, as Babcock becomes a computer pining for another (“Is there any room in your aorta for a beta test?”).
On angular closer ‘PUPTHEBAND Inc. Is Filing For Bankruptcy’, Babcock directly stares down the band’s precarious place in the music industry: “So you’re selling insurance, that’s so inspiring / Give me two more years, let me know if they’re hiring. Towards the end, though, he admits: “There’s no place I’d rather be instead… I’m truly grateful for the life that I’ve led / I’m just being dramatic”.
We can’t fault him for that. It’s hard, and only getting harder, to make a career in indie music. Staying lovably dysfunctional is just PUP’s method of rebellion: they couldn’t be a smart business investment if they tried – and they’re all the better for that.
Release date: April 1
Record label: Rise Records