The fact that Toronto’s PUP—which stands for Pointless Use of Potential—even made it to a second record is astounding. After the release of its self-titled debut, the band hit the road hard, touring almost constantly for two years and playing hundreds of shows. All that hard work was starting to pay off, but when the band went back out on the road, PUP vocalist-guitarist Stefan Babcock made a visit to a doctor’s office. His throat had been bothering him, the cause of which turned out to be more dire than initially thought: A cyst had formed in his throat and it was hemorrhaging. Babcock was told—in no uncertain terms—that his dream of being in a band and touring the world was over. If his life was a movie, it’d be the moment where the record scratches and everything stops. Instead, the musician healed and got to work on The Dream Is Over, a record that calls out that unnamed doctor right in the title.
Opening with Babcock forlornly singing atop delicate guitar lines, “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will” suggests a different direction for PUP. If its debut was all energy and scream-along choruses, the early goings of The Dream Is Over feel like the band opted to quiet down a bit following Babcock’s health scare. That is, until midway through the track, when he belts out the most emphatic scream ever put into a PUP song. Quickly, the dual guitars that typified the band’s debut kick in, with Babcock and Steve Sladkowski trading riffs back and forth. By its end, the track becomes an explosive, life-affirming ode to pressing on in the face of struggle, something PUP has become adept at capturing on record.
Hot on the song’s heels is “DVP,” the most raucous track in a catalog full of them. It’s got the wild bravado of a rock band on the brink, but with the self-deprecating drunkenness of the best modern punk bands. It’s the kind of song that’s built for live sets, as Babcock’s disheveled cry, “Three beers and I’m so messed up / Get drunk and I can’t shut up” plays like Drake, if he was blaming himself instead of the antagonists he routinely derides.
“Old Wounds” sees Babcock again point fingers at himself when he belts out, “I’ve never been good at anything / Except fucking up and ruining everything.” It’s a hyper-charged, quasi-hardcore song that recalls the likes of Single Mothers, with Babcock’s borderline sing-speak delivery and the band’s riff-heavy composition. This is all juxtaposed against ruminative tracks that build to huge sing-alongs (“The Coast,” “Pine Point”) and rousing earworms that show the band could easily have a second life as a straightforward pop-rock band (“Can’t Win,” “Familiar Patterns”). In many ways, The Dream Is Over is a record that perfectly captures the moment between bottoming out and rising above. Not many would be able to find this much strength when on the brink of collapse, but PUP’s never seemed all that interested in doing things the easy way.