Chapter I: You’re not punk, and I’m telling everyone
Part one of a series of reviews dedicated to the band Jawbreaker in reverse order of the LPs, being the order that I listened to them in.
Like many others, Dear You was my first Jawbreaker record, and it is universally recognized (for the most part) as their worst record. While that sounds like a harsh label to slap onto a record, it is ultimately true. This is Jawbreaker at their cleanest and poppiest, which, in a way, makes it the perfect first album for the band.
In all honesty, at first glance there isn’t much to say that’s negative about the album. Sure, some duds like the overall hookless “I Love You So Much It’s Killing Us Both” or the obnoxious “Oyster” leave a bad taste in your mouth, but aside from the occasional stinker, what is all of the negative fuss about? Well, there really isn’t much way of showing it by strictly listening to it for a week. Dear You hits its highest moments in very melodic and poppy arrangements and hooks for songs such as “Fireman” or “Sluttering (May 4th)”. Songs that are so irresistibly catchy that you will, and I repeat will, sing along to them no matter where you are. This formula works for the most part over the entire album. Poppy alternative pop-punk songs with beat-inspired poetry and somewhat-cool-but-still-mediocre noisy guitars. The only exception to the rule to be found here is “Accident Prone”, which is the six-minute long “monster” of the album. I use quotes around this term because it really doesn’t deviate too much from the usual formula except for a very sweet bridge near the end and it’s desperately sung chorus. It’s, for lack of a better word, beautiful.
This brings us to the lyrics. One of Jawbreaker’s main selling points, their lyrics are known for being extremely personal, vulnerable, and reminiscent of the works of Allen Ginsberg or (arguably) Ken Kesey. This album is no exception to the rule, with the lyrical topics ranging from the dullness that is killing the generation (“Save Your Generation”) to the massive oath that is marriage (“Basilica”). “Fireman” is a classic in the Jawbreaker discography, if not for it’s perfect arrangement, then for it’s jarringly honest lyrics.
If you could hear the dreams I’ve had my dear
They would give you nightmares for a week.
But you’re not here and I can never sleep
Come home so I can be afraid.
To an extent, however, the lyrics can be viewed as a negative to the album. As said above, they are typical Jawbreaker, which doesn’t allow much room for any deviation from the norms. What you expect from emo or pop-punk lyricism, you’ll get here. Granted, it’s the cream of the crop, but it still lacks what made Jawbreaker’s earlier discography more fascinating; honest lyrics over raw music. The cleaned up presentation and sound really detracts from the poetry, and further cements why this album is considered the worst of Jawbreaker.
Dear You is definitely not a bad album, and I would highly encourage everybody at least give it a listen, if not for the catchy and head-bobbing songwriting, then for the lyrics that will take you back to high school when you were the quiet punk rocker sitting by yourself at the football games staring at your little crush and writing pretentious, Kerouac-esque poems into your palm.