It’s funny how the passing of time has the power to change music so distinctly. Of course, I make it no secret that I’m partial to music that's managed to remain untouched by the wrath of aging. The directness of a first impression, rarely clouded with uncertainty or ambiguity, is seductive when approaching an album. It’s difficult, though, to retain steadfast assertions after years of listening because my ears tend to register mixed feelings. Differing opinions stand out, and inklings of doubt caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies in my stomach regarding the positive feelings I once felt and the flaws I begin to hear.
And yet, for all this, some albums age so gracefully. Jawbox’s For Your Own Special Sweetheart
is a stunning example of the ability of some music to stand up to the caustic gaze of retrospection. Even at the time, what could have gone down as an utter failure turned out to brashly prove doubters and purists wrong. The cards were stacked against Jawbox. Making the jump from hardcore-royalty Mr.FuckingPorchular
Dischord to big-name mainstream Atlantic Records could very well have been the musical equivalent of the BP oil spill. Rather, For Your Own Special Sweetheart
has aged into something beautiful, a balancing act of epic proportions. Catchy, dissonant, furious and fun, Jawbox’s opus is a testament to the blending of distinct cultures and styles to create something unquestionably unique yet unapologetically familiar.
For Your Own Special Sweetheart
's beauty lies not in the separate elements it borrows from traditional hardcore or alternative music, but instead in the band’s expertise in harmonizing the disparate aspects. The innovation guaranteed that Jawbox would become the influencer
rather than the influenced
, and for good reason. The flawless execution and combination of chunky riffs a la twin guitars, punchy, pummeling percussion, J. Robbins’ bare, clean vocals, and Kim Coletta’s skeletal bass-lines are irreconcilably ferocious and focused, sending chills down both
the spines of distraught Dischord fans and a new, larger audience alike. Sweetheart’s
real specialty, though, prevails in Jawbox’s ability to render notions like “harmony” and “dissonance” futile as descriptors, synchronizing the two together to the brink of discomfort in the band’s exhilarating and profound third full-length. Dually beautiful and melancholic, Sweetheart
attains extraordinary levels of elegance through their tight, restrained, and disarmingly simple post-hardcore anthems like “FF=66,” “Savory,” “Cooling Card,” among a host of others. Instead of drowning itself in pressure and significance, the music feels unabashedly fun throughout, and paradoxically becomes all the more significant because of it. Simple aspects like Robbins’ vocal lines are seamlessly forged together with complexities like the ever-shifting guitars and shaky reverb, and manage never to lose a bit of personality and charisma in the process. As time goes by, the CD becomes inevitably worn, and detail after detail of the album are extrapolated, the charm of Sweetheart’s
intimacy is never diminished. The controversy once surrounding Jawbox’s “sell-out” to a major label has shown that for Jawbox the real fervor lies in the unrelenting ferocity of the album, not which label released it.
Legions of post-hardcore and non-post-hardcore alike have cited Jawbox as a major influence in their music. Some worthy of the influence, while others not so much. Once again, this fact serves as another testament to Time’s kind enhancement of Sweetheart
. The hazy pinkish woman underneath the “Jawbox” on the cover has morphed into somewhat of a symbol for me. The clashing elements that define the cover in dazzling manner (not unlike the music itself) remind me of time’s powerful effect on art and it’s ability to make Sweetheart
the irrevocable classic that it remains today; not through an immediate likability (though it does
have that), but rather through the timelessness of the sound-clash between hardcore aesthetics and alt-rock tendencies that Jawbox claimed for themselves.
The immaculate bending of original cultures and sounds that birthed Sweetheart
are somewhat lost in the process of the album’s conception, but looking back on how Sweetheart’s
fared over the many years it’s impossible to mourn this loss. Instead, celebrate the new, sensational movement born out of the raucous chord changes and furious riffage that inhabit the album. As Sweetheart
begins to unwind itself over time, year after year, listen after listen, a magnificent album is slowly revealed. It’s been a while since Jawbox’s most heralded and controversial album was released. In comparison, as years surely pass and some of this year’s now-exalted albums are bound to fall behind bookshelves to be forgotten, time will surely take vengeance on the undeserving recipients of today’s praises, claiming them only ephemeral masterpieces. But time has spoken- balancing tension and dissonance with masterful restraint and an air free of pretension rarely manages to sound half as magnificent as For Your Own Special Sweetheart
, and it’s pretty clear what Time’s verdict is on the album.