Even before he was a parent, Dan Campbell felt the crushing weight of adult expectations. “I’m 26/All the people I graduated with all have kids, all have wives,” he roared on 2013’s “Passing Through a Screen Door,” before bemoaning his doomed, lonely outlook: “Did I fuck up?” Nearly 10 years later, the Wonder Years’ frontman lives in a South Jersey suburb of Philadelphia with his wife and three-year-old son. But anxiety is like matter: It can’t be destroyed. Even after your worst fears don’t come true, they take on another shape. Now that Campbell has a child, there’s the other half of “Passing” to worry about: “I don’t want my children growing up to be anything like me.” On The Hum Goes on Forever, the Wonder Years write the impossible: a pop punk parenthood record that attempts to grow up without growing out of their hooks and heart-achingly earnest outlook.
The Wonder Years take a serialized approach to songwriting, connecting characters across albums, with Campbell as an unreliable narrator. He writes about what, and who, he knows: his college dropout friends, his ex-girlfriends, specific locations in Philadelphia, down to the street number. There’s a new addition in the cast on The Hum Goes on Forever: His son, Wyatt, who stars as the album’s thematic center. There he is haunting Campbell’s nightmares on “Cardinals II”; his tiny gloves tucked into Campbell’s winter coat are a “reminder that I’m not alone.” And then there’s his very own “Wyatt’s Song (Your Name),” which measures his son in heartbeats, in first words, in breaths while he’s sleeping. Like the best the Wonder Years songs, it is both littered with specific details and so fervently emotional that it feels universal.
As he stares terrified into the future, Campbell also revisits proper nouns from the band’s past and tries to tie up loose ends. Colleen, who skipped town on 2011’s “Coffee Eyes,” still weighs heavy on “The Paris of Nowhere.” The song is a love letter to Philadelphia, with all of its potholes and junkyard fires. The Eagles won their first Super Bowl after the Wonder Years finished recording 2018’s Sister Cities, and Campbell makes up for lost time with nostalgic shrines to “St. Nick Foles.” There’s Madelyn, a dark, brooding companion on The Greatest Generation who now appears increasingly itinerant on “Oldest Daughter.” She’s sleeping in public libraries; Campbell is settled in the suburbs. He wants to send her a birthday gift and pictures of his children, but she doesn’t have a permanent address. When Campbell calls back to a line from that album—“We both know how this ends”—it echoes with the distance between who he was in 2013 and who he is now.