When great discography meets an abundance of content, then emerges the question of “Which album is superior?” Almost like clockwork, future releases soon become a platform for debate. A pinnacle example is 90s emo band, Jawbreaker. Two of ACRN’S own dueled it out between Jawbreaker’s Dear You and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. Having trouble deciding for yourself? Check out what our staff had to say about the never-ending feud between two of Jawbreaker’s highly contested albums.
Eli Schoop, Copy Editor: Dear You
With all apologies to 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, Dear You is the pinnacle of Jawbreaker. Seldom has there ever been an album in punk culture so polarizing, yet revered at the same time. While viewed as a seminal record for many in 2016, when released in 1995, it was the subject of much scorn. According to the faithful, the band had sold out signing to Geffen and touring with Green Day, in addition to polishing their vocals and instrumentals in the studio. While this seemed sacrilege, it diversified their style and coalesced Dear You into being Jawbreaker’s magnum opus.
Jawbreaker frontman Blake Schwarzenbach was always known as a man of few words, but on Dear You his expression of emotion far surpasses the previous works in which him and his bandmates construct. Gone are the vivid and fictional explanations of his life, in favor of a much more subdued lyrical process. If Revenge Therapy is the multi-chromatic vision of how Schwarzenbach interacts with the world, Dear You parallels it as a blackened speck of his mind. He comes across as more perturbed and resigned to depression when confronted. It’s a tribute to how cognizant the man is that he’s able to create such intricate worlds while staying true to the type of music loved by so many on this LP.
But it’s not all about Schwarzenbach and his grizzled voice. Bassist Chris Bauermeister and drummer Adam Pfahler anchored the rhythm section with a taste unmatched by few other bands in the 90s. This is rapid-fire precision that carries songs like “Chemistry” and “Sluttering (May 4th),” which are characteristic of the duo that rarely falters in the presence of such melancholy atmospheres. Truthfully, it’s hard to piece together exactly how involved they were behind a veil of secrecy within the band’s activities, but suffice it to say, Bauermeister and Pfahler notably altered Dear You from a great album into a masterpiece.
What about Dear You propels it to the top of Jawbreaker’s discography? Despite the complaints of diehard fans about their change in direction, it’s their most insistent album. It grows on you throughout, revealing more and more that’s both personal and relatable in equal means. The dark sense of humor lying underneath is one that helps fulfill the machinations of souls in trouble, conflicted tales intact. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy is more overt in how Jawbreaker composes the environments around them with aplomb, filling the characters and settings in according to details, but Dear You’s subtlety seems effortless comparatively wherein it slowly envelops the listener into a melodic malaise. This kind of commitment to mood sets the stage for one of the greatest punk releases of the decade.
More than just a landmark record, Dear You was a statement against the kind of cookie-cutter music marking the scene at that time. Those who hated it represented the closed-mindedness that was frustrating in an era with such experimental music. Impressively, but not surprisingly, it has only grown more popular over time, and shows how the art this trio crafted was appreciated by many. Jawbreaker’s best output, and a momentous point in both the punk and emo genres.
Van Williams, Contributor: 24 Hour Revenge Therapy
So often in music, it is more of a matter of time and place than anything else, and such holds true in the case of Jawbreaker’s third record, 1994’s 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. Jawbreaker had garnered quite the local following in the Bay Area after their first two releases, Unfun and Bivouac. However, there was something about 24 Hour that was going to be different; you could just feel it. After Blake Schwarzenbach’s potentially fatal throat polyp was removed, his singing was cleaner than before, but it didn’t stop him from the same blistering intensity in albums prior. To this day, it stands as one of the best emo albums of the 90s.
The record opens with “The Boat Dreams from The Hill,” arguably the best song that could kick off the album. The track features thick baselines, fast-paced, intricate drumming, and Schwarzenbach’s trademark scratchy vocals. The track tells the tale of an old boat that spend its whole life being fixed up by an old man who will never actually take it out to sea. It eventually is sold at an auction, and Schwarzenbach finds himself identifying with the boat. “I want to be a boat / I want to learn to swim / and then I’ll learn to float / then begin again.” The track is followed by “Indictment,” which serves as a perfect example of Schwarzenbach’s cynical view of the punk community. He uses satire in a way the most political cartoonists could not master. “It won’t bother me, what the thoughtless are thinking, I am more concerned with what we’re drinking,” Blake screams over Gibson Les Paul power chords. The third track on the record is one of Jawbreaker’s most iconic songs, titled “Boxcar.” If “Indictment” seemed like a jab at the punk community, this is a furious right hook. Schwarzenbach makes no effort to hide his disenchantment with lyrics such as, “You’re not punk, and I’m telling everyone / save your breath, I never was one / I’m coloring outside your guidelines / I was passing out when you were passing out your rules.” Clocking in at under two minutes, it leaves the listener flabbergasted at what exactly just happened, but its importance was made clear.
The middle of the album slows down a bit, without ever losing the audiences interest. It is made explicit that the highlight of this portion of the record is “Ashtray Monument.” The tempo changes and instrumentation are enough to make anyone’s jaw drop, and on top of that, the lyrics are incredible (not that that’s really a surprise to anyone who is already a fan of the band). Track seven is “Ache,” which could very well be considered the centerpiece of the album. It is the only true slow song on the record, and it’s beautifully executed. Blake cried out for acceptance, feeling rejected and introverted. The line, “I believe in desperate acts / the kind that make you look stupid,” could have read as the mantra of the band’s entire message.
The true gems on this albums, “Do You Still Hate Me?” and “Jinx Removing,” are both found on the B-Side. These songs find Schwarzenbach at not only his strongest, but also at his most vulnerable, a fine line in which most artists try to find, but can never quite master. In “Do You Still Hate Me?” Schwarzenbach reminisces in a style resembling Kerouac, “I have a picture of you and me in Brooklyn, on the porch it was raining, and I remember that day.” The song blisters to a close with screaming guitar riffs, making it evident that this is one of the most paramount emo albums ever recorded.
If all of that is not enough, the final treasure is found in “Jinx Removing.” It features some of the catchiest pop hooks on the album. It might sound like the happiest track, but it is filled with nostalgia and heartache. “I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone before, or anyone to come. Someone said your name, I thought of you alone, I was just the same, twenty blocks away,” Schwarzenbach confesses over drum fills that sound like they could have just as easily been found on The Clash’s London Calling. 24 Hour Revenge Therapy closes just as quickly as it started with “In Sadding Around.” An odd form of clarity is reached in all of the chaos in the line, “If I had a choice / don’t you think I’d make it?”
Perhaps 24 Hour Revenge Therapy isn’t the most mature songwriting Jawbreaker has ever done, but the magic is found in the passion and urgency. This record needed to happen, and that is why fans clung to it as if it were their own project. Dear You was, admittedly, a fantastic album, but it was an over-polished affair that fell on essentially deaf ears. There was something about the wit and the confessions in 24 Hour that sounded like cigarettes, cheap beer, and San Fransisco that made it feel so personal. That is why 24 Hour Revenge Therapy will always be considered Jawbreaker’s Zeppelin IV — their “Sgt. Pepper.” Pfahler’s intricate, faster than lightning drum fills, Bauermeister’s thudding bass rhythms, and Schwarzenbach’s desperate, broken vocals, were perfectly captured in a moment in time that will never be achieved again.