Problems, the first full-length from the Get Up Kids in more than eight years, pulls an excellent trick. Like the best comeback records (think Sleater-Kinney’s No Cities To Love or Braid’s No Coast), Problems doesn’t focus its energy on concocting a new identity for an established band––the Kids already did that with their first return in 2011 and underrated fuzz-rock LP There Are Rules. Following on last year’s sugar-rushed homecoming EP Kicker, Problems is a look back at everything that’s always made the Get Up Kids a great band, a refresh of their most lovable qualities that never feels false or pandering. It reinforces the greatness of their past as much as it provides something awesome of its own accord.
All of this is to say that Problems fits in perfectly with the band’s original run of records in the most worthwhile way possible. It’s outrageously hooky, emotionally blunt and honest, melodically quirky—and even a little bit sad sometimes. It’s the Get Up Kids in their pure form. And it’s an absolute blast.
The music of the Get Up Kids has always bloomed from an essential feeling of loneliness. On 1998’s seminal Something To Write Home About, the band distilled that feeling into a document of buzzing, hands-to-the-sky catharsis, a yearning for something lost or never existent that could be worn on your sleeve, shouted from the top of your lungs to nobody in particular. So it’s fitting that Problems begins with an introverted anthem, a celebration of the act of being alone as opposed to being lonely. “Satellite” is a bursting rock song to bounce along to by yourself on a Saturday night, and the bright way Matt Pryor sings the hook (“It’s a long way down for me/The satellite orbiting the world alone”) gives you permission to have the time of your life all on your own.
Later on, songs like “Salina” and “Now Or Never” go for the tried-and-true Get Up Kids subjects with little, but meaningful, twists along the way. “Salina” is a road song about being away from a loved one, wonderfully moody but self-aware of its own drama (“Sentimental fool who writes all these words for you”). “Now Or Never” (with Jim Suptic taking the lead) is a classic pop/punk tune on which the titular cliche is delivered with the rare sense that “never” is a viable option. “Now Or Never” is also home to a classic Get Up Kids one-liner: “Our indifference is a sickness we caught together.” A little sad, but not too sad, and sung with an almost cheery tone, the line serves as a microcosm of that subtle mix of emotions that has always put this band ahead of its peers.
At this point, it feels silly to try and measure Problems against the band’s classic records. But songs like “The Advocate” and “Fairweather Friends” are easy to rank among its best. “The Advocate” falls in line with “Satellite,” an empathetic song that seeks to treat its subject with honesty and respect. Pryor has said that he wrote “Satellite” for his son, and “The Advocate” also feels like it could be directed toward a child, its core hook––“Arms around whoever you may be”––a stomping, sweet reminder of love for somebody even as they push away.
“Fairweather Friends,” on the other hand, is delightfully cheeky song addressed to anyone who might say, “Why do the Get Up Kids still exist?” Twenty years removed from their most beloved record, there are bound to be some people who tuned out at some point and assumed that everyone else did the same. The exuberant chorus doesn’t give them an inch: “Fairweather friends will say/All good days just fade away/To those fools I say/Stay out.” It’s not bitter. It’s not mean. It’s a pure, fun anthem for keeping your head held high even when you’re told to wonder “What’s the point?” The song, and Problems as a whole, answer that question with just as much power as the Get Up Kids ever yielded––there are still plenty of songs to be sung at the top of your lungs.