PUP - Morbid Stuff
Morbid Stuff is the title of the latest album from PUP. It is an ironic understatement describing the heavy themes of mortality, depression, and existential angst. Unfiltered self-deprecation is the Toronto punk band’s calling card. Their name is an acronym for Pathetic Use of Potential after all. Lead vocalist Stefan Babcock’s mental health plays a major role in these lyrics, but the band does not lean into platitudes or empty motivational speech. Instead, Babcock exists in the current moment of his mental health, often making himself the subject of his brash critiques. For a band in the pop-punk sphere, a genre infamously known for its recycled clichés, PUP puts together an admirably self-aware project.
Babcock makes abundantly clear his distaste for the tortured artist archetype. PUP will not fetishize sadness, as it has become fashionable to do so. “Just ‘cause you’re sad again, it doesn’t make you feel special,” PUP shouts on the infectious, gang-vocal backed chorus of “Free at Last.” A similar sentiment is shared on “Full Blown Meltdown,” the loudest, most fiery cut on the record. Babcock asks the listener “How long will self-destruction be alluring? It's good for business and baby business is booming.” In the outro of the same tune, Babcock break’s character to plead with his listeners not to give too much weight to himself or the things he says in his songs. “Half the crap I say is just things I've stolen from the bathroom walls of shitty venues across America.”
PUP shows a surprising amount of ambition and diversity of influences in their songwriting. Take for example the multi-part Scorpion Hill. While it eventually makes its way to the rousing, angular brand of hook heavy punk rock PUP is known for, it begins with lo-fi, slacker rendition of campfire folk. The melancholic gang vocals in the verses, right before the electric guitar comes in, are warm and endearing. The song reads as an apology letter to his listener, breaking the fourth wall in complete honesty about his depression and destructive habits. “My intentions were good. I was just bursting apart like the end of the ark, holding on to whatever I could,” Babcock explains on opening verse.
No song sums up the appeal of this record as much as the twisted “Bloody Mary, Kate And Ashley.” The chorus on this song is absolutely monster and will get quite the rise during the festival circuit, but that might distract from just how dark these lyrics are. Stefan conjures up an ex-lover by playing Bloody Mary….or Mary, Kate And Ashely…in his bathroom mirror. But considering the drugs he is on at the time, he can’t determine whether or not she is real or if he is dreaming at the moment. It’s difficult to determine whether or not to feel sad for Babcock, or burst out laughing at the hilarious scenario. PUP finds a way again and again to mask their intense subject matter with how much fun they are clearly having when performing. The tune is noisy, cathartic, and catchy as hell. Everything pop-punk could and should be.
Morbid Stuff is an exceptionally smart, soul searching punk album. The hooks are sticky and euphoric. Babcock’s vocals, especially when harmonized by his bandmates, saddle a perfect line between nasty angst and melodic confessions. Compared to their counterparts, PUPs lyrics are miles ahead in honesty and personal reflection. Instrumentally, they are more textured than their peers and more adventurous in their songwriting as well. PUP doesn’t necessarily reinvent the pop-punk formula; they just make it far more fun and interesting to listen to.