[Versus pits two of an artist’s classic albums against each other even if they’re stylistically different, because that “you can’t compare apples and oranges” bullshit is for people without balls, spines, or all those other things that separate us from the villainous jellyfish.]
While their discography consists of only four albums (plus a live record and rarities compilation), Jawbreaker remains influential in the punk community, perhaps even more so now than when they were taking shit for signing to a major label back in the mid-’90s. Their swan song, Dear You, was lambasted by ’90s punks for being too clean-sounding and, well, un-punk. Now, though, those lines have blurred, and Jawbreaker has become part of a small cache of ’90s punk acts, along with Hot Water Music and Discount, that upcoming bands must contend with at all times. A quick glimpse through Alternative Press’ reviews section reveals dozens of comparisons to this holy trinity, though such labels are rarely deserved (although Banner Pilot might deserve the crown in time). Simply put, nobody combined raw emotion with dynamic musicianship, filtered through a punk lens, like Blake Schwarzenbach, Chris Bauermeister, and Adam Pfahler.
The album Jawbreaker is perhaps most universally loved for (within the subculture anyway) is 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. It’s the closest the group ever came to making a straightforward pop punk record. At 11 songs and 37 minutes, it’s a quick, exhilarating listen. It’s much easier to spin than Unfun (too long) or Bivouac (too dark, dense, and dissonant). Ten of the 11 tracks are of comparable peppy quality and could be played in just about any order, although the placement of the midtempo number “Ache” at track seven feels like a deliberate palate cleanser, a seventh inning stretch if you will. Otherwise, it’s a collection of what Schwarzenbach self-mockingly dubbed “stupid, happy songs.” Sure, you can dance to these tunes, so long as you don’t consider the topics: wasted potential (“Boat on a Hill”), ex-flames (“Ache,” “Do You Still Hate Me?”), and small-minded fucks (“Boxcar”). This one’s the crowd pleaser.
But it’s not my favorite Jawbreaker album.
Perhaps my opinion on the group is different because I grew up independently of puritan punk politics. Plus, I got to hear the band’s albums backwards, not chronologically. I don’t care that Jawbreaker A) signed to a major label or B) changed their sound for Dear You. In fact, I’d argue that Dear You is more like a streamlined version of Bivouac. Sure, Rob Cavallo’s production is a lot cleaner, but the music is more complex and the lyrics get way more depressing. Compared to the group’s overall output, Revenge Therapy is an anomaly, where Dear You is the pinnacle of their style. The topics covered on both albums are similar – scene politics, lady problems, and being really, really sad – but Dear You pushes these things further. Some of the guitar tones Schwarzenbach and Cavallo came up with here are just so obliterating, like on “Basilica” or “Lurker II: Son of Night.” Yet I can’t call Dear You a strictly “guitar record” since Bauermeister’s muscular bass lines and Pfahler’s loose, constantly evolving drum parts are so essential to the sound. Some folks might call that a power trio.
24 Hour Revenge Therapy is a fine record and I listen to it often. But I’ve never put individual tracks on repeat for hours at a time like I have with Dear You cuts such as “Accident Prone” or “Unlisted Track.” Oddly enough, it also features some of the group’s catchiest songs as well, like “Save Your Generation,” “Oyster,” and especially “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault,” all of which better what Revenge Therapy achieved. Revenge Therapy may remain the crowd favorite, as a recent conversation with my co-workers at Punknews.org revealed, but in my heart, Dear You remains the better choice.
That said, I had a blast listening to both albums on repeat this morning, so I guess I’m the real winner.