In 1995 the words “sell out,” when levied against a punk rock band, carried a devastating weight. Green Day had just exploded across North American television screens and into the living rooms, CD players, and minds of the adolescent consciousness. The resulting frenzy of major label signings of poppy sounding punk rock bands that came in the wake of the loss of Kurt Cobain and the ascension of Green Day’s frontman Billie Joe Armstrong fostered an age of constant call-outs and disdain that set the template for a plethora of social issues that should feel uncomfortably familiar for any fan of music in the modern age.
When the slick and polished Dear You from Bay Area emo punks Jawbreaker was released on the DGC label, the disappointment felt in the punk rock scene was overwhelming. Featuring a smoother vocal style that was at least partially the result of singer Blake Schwarzenbach requiring voice saving surgery to remove painful vocal cord polyps from his throat, the record was near universally hated by longtime fans. And despite signing a one million dollar contract with DGC — the street credible major label responsible for bringing heavyweights like Sonic Youth and Nirvana into the mainstream in the early 90s — the singles failed to receive much attention on major radio stations or MTV. At the time it was considered a massive failure to cash in on a legendary cult band’s punk rock cache.
It was as if Schwarzenbach had never sung the lyrics “You’re not punk and I’m telling everyone / save your breath I never was one!” on their previous album 24 Hour Revenge Therapy’s classic track “Boxcar;” a song which is also very appropriately featured in an alternate recorded version on some reissue copies of Dear You. Schwarzenbach’s insightful and self immolating lyrical style was always the highlight of every Jawbreaker album and despite the change in delivery on their major label debut from start to finish, he is in rare and perfect form weaving devastating self revelations over catchy hooks and punchy songs that legions of bands would emulate and aspire to in the decades that followed.
The brutal honesty on display in the powerful and incredible songs on Dear You is fixed firmly to the insights and experiences mined for truth by the bandleader’s powerful songwriting. On tracks like “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault” and “I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both” Schwarzenbach sings about the miserable experience of young love in the party scene and the complications of being in a small community of people where you’re likely to constantly run into your ex. Just when you think you might never hear a more devastating and true lyric than “Should we get married or just go on killing each other? / I don’t think I hate you enough to commit you to me” Schwarzenbach hits you with “I dreamed I was your Landlord / I showed your place when you had lovers” in the follow up track and first failure to chart single, “Fireman”.
Time is the great vindicator of honest and pure efforts and these days it is impossible to disregard or deny the hallowed and influential pedestal Dear You claims in the pop punk and emo catalog of classics. While other more mainstream bands of the era were grinding away at their credibility making truly lazy rehashed watered down pop records, musicals and a total mockery of themselves Jawbreaker was laying dormant. To this day Dear You is one of the most likely records you will find featured on short lists of the most essential albums of the era, and rightfully so. It may not have charted or sold many copies upon release, and the backlash may have even broken up the band – sending Schwarzenbach into such a spiral of depression it took several somber Jets to Brazil albums to work out for himself – but thankfully they are back together now after a series of reunion tours starting in 2017 and reportedly working on a follow up record.
On March 18 Jawbreaker will kick off the 25th anniversary tour of Dear You. In a recent press release, the band notes, “The last two years don’t count.” The dates start on the west coast with a show at Seattle’s Showbox SoDo and include a stop at The Wiltern in Los Angeles and multiple nights at The Fillmore in San Francisco, Chicago’s House Of Blues, and Irving Plaza in New York City, among other cities. Supporting guests include Built to Spill, Descendents, Jawbox, Face to Face, Best Coast, Team Dresch, and the Linda Linda’s to support on select shows – check local listings for details.
By Stephan Boissonneault
With fresh folklore in abundance, the east coast songwriter’s sophomore offering is a classic tribute to his beloved province.