Album Of The Week: PUP – The Unravelling Of PUPTHEBAND

The fourth album from the chaotic Canadian punks is our pick of this week's best new releases

Toronto’s PUP have always had an endearingly twisted sense of humour. This is a band that began their second album with frontman Stefan Babcock wishing physical harm on his bandmates after being stuck in a van with them for weeks on end. Their third opened with Babcock wondering out loud if any of his past sexual partners were dead.

The Unravelling Of PUPTHEBAND doesn’t launch itself at you, like its predecessor Morbid Stuff did, but it makes it very clear that PUP’s sensibilities remain intact. This time, however, the curtain rises to Babcock sitting at a piano for a meta ballad about how he used the label’s money to learn just four chords, “enough to make something that nobody wanted.” When the massive guitars do kick in, it’s more majestic than aggressive. Is this how PUP unravel? Piano ballads and strings?

PUP - Totally Fine (Official Music Video)

Not so fast. Or, even faster. No sooner has ‘Four Chords’ faded out than ‘Totally Fine’ comes at you like a bulldozer strapped to a rocket. It’s as heavy a song as PUP have recorded, but still shifts from spat out verses to anthemic choruses like it’s the most inevitable evolution. That said, the fury lets up more often on The Unravelling… than its predecessors. ‘Cutting The Corners’ has a domestic weariness to it that sounds almost like a sequel to ‘Scorpion Hill’, while ‘Grim Reaping’ turns Babcock’s scathing outwards, worrying more about the repercussions of our actions as a whole, instead of just his own bad decisions.

PUP - Waiting (Official Audio)

Still, Babcock’s eternal position as the helpless f*ck up isn’t going anywhere. He’s still the guy who calls your parents’ landline in the middle of the night, looking for validation, the same old “Sloppy Steffy” living out the back of his ’97 Camry, the same guy who tried to grow up on ‘Scorpion Hill’ but ended up hiding a gun in his son’s bedroom. As PUP get bigger and bigger, can Steffy stay so sloppy? You’d have to believe Babcock can find a way. At times, he even sounds proud of it.

PUP - Robot Writes A Love Song (Official Music Video)

Equally intact is Babcock’s talent for taking songs that sound like jokes and making them inexplicably affecting, like Lars And The Real Girl if it was a punk song. PUP nailed this when paying tribute to Babcock’s chameleon Norman on ‘Sleep In The Heat’ off The Dream Is Over and do it twice here on ‘Matilda’ – an ode to Babcock’s barely playable guitar – and ‘Robot Writes A Love Song’. The latter is full of references to backing up memories, data, monitors and beta tests, but at its heart (or CPU?) lies a touching song about doomed love. It’s hard to think of any other band who could have done this with the same sincerity.

PUP - Matilda (Official Music Video)

Despite the increased dynamics and the presence of Peter Katis (The National, Interpol) behind the desk, there are no trademark traces here of a band setting out to grow up. It’s more like PUP started unravelling and somehow wound up sounding more like themselves than ever. If any band was going to find themselves by falling apart, PUP would be prime candidates.

PUP are on tour in October 2022. Get tickets here. Buy The Unravelling Of PUPTHEBAND here.