Tribute records are an uphill battle from the first track. Purists of the band receiving the honors will scrutinize every note of every cover, looking for ways to dismantle popular opinion of groups involved. Fans of the bands covering the tributed group will look towards their guitar-slinging heroes to hopefully open their eyes to a band that, by all respects, should be heard by as many people as possible. Many a high-profile tribute has been released in recent years, with records being dedicated to the Pixies, Weezer, Green Day, the Clash, and more. Unarguably, all those bands are incredibly important in the overall scheme of music, and this CD's honoree, Jawbreaker, definitely deserves to be mentioned in the same sentence as those rock luminaries.
But does the record hold up?
From the purist's standpoint, it does rather well. I am a huge Jawbreaker fan and have been for a number of years, so I was rightfully concerned when I heard there would be a tribute record [this, after a previously announced Jawbreaker tribute on a different label containing such heavy hitters as Thursday, the Weakerthans, Midtown, and Further Seems Forever fell through completely]. As the lineup was unveiled, I saw many a band that I really didn't care for - Fall Out Boy, Riddlin' Kids, and Nerf Herder, among others, sent off red flags in my brain. To also see that some of my most favorite songs would be the subject of a revamp broke my heart as well - can "Jet Black" really get any better? Or "Boxcar?" As I pulled out my original copy of Dear You [worth 50 scene points!] to refamiliarize myself with some material, I shuddered at the thought of some of these songs.
Luckily, I was pleasantly surprised. The bands that worried me the most turned in the most faithful covers, it seems. Bigwig's "Ashtray Monument" and Face To Face's "Boat Dreams From The Hill" are virtually note-for-note renditions of the originals, but they go one better - I can actually understand the lyrics of the songs! Now don't get me wrong, I love/obsess over Blake Schwarzenbach as much as the next lonely, overweight indie-rocker, but the guy really never figured out how to enunciate until the end of Jawbreaker's career [it didn't help that pre-Dear You, the term "shoestring" referred to more of their recordings than the band members' foot apparel]. Shit, even the Riddlin' Kids didn't fuck up "Jinx Removing," which really made me happy. Generally, it really was a pleasant surprise to basically just get cleaned up versions of some classic tunes.
As with most tribute albums, some artists remain faithful to the original, and some venture into left field, with mixed results. Duvall turns in one of the most beautiful cover songs [by anyone, of anyone] that I've ever heard with a 6 minute rendition of "Busy." Josh Caterer is a genius, and it's nice to see one genius paying tribute to another. Sparta's "Kiss The Bottle" is weirdly acoustic, and just feels a bit too foreign and sterile [not to mention that it gets a little too Temple-of-the-Dog for me when the low-voiced guy sings along]. Lucero's cover of this song [bootlegged on MP3 for the past number of years all over the internet] is much, much better. Good Night Bad Guy's "Jet Black" is reduced to simply one guitar [and a bit of distorted drums towards the end], but the classic movie soundbites remain intact, driving the song a bit more. It's almost too atmospheric for Jawbreaker, but it's a nice way for the album to wind down.
So from the purist's standpoint, no one really majorly fucks up any of the songs on here. Now, onto the perspective of the fan of the bands doing the covering. Counterfit's "Million" is very true to the original, only playing around with the song structure ever so slightly [in a way only they could]. Thumbs up. The Reunion Show's MOOG-a-riffic sound fails them on "Unlisted Track," sounding more chaotic than poppy. The Gamits darken their sound a bit and tackle "I Love You So Much It's Killing Us Both," and do it admirably well [it's obvious after listening to this compilation that a good majority of these bands really are influenced by Jawbreaker, and are not just on here for exposure]. My favorite song out of the whole batch, though, is the Ă?ffect's version of "Boxcar." If you've ever wanted to hear Jawbreaker at your local dance club, give them this song and it will get spun until the cows come home. Hearing singer Aaron croon "You're not punk, and I'm telling everyone / save your breath, I never was one" really embodies the Ă?ffect's outlook on music, and the song has rarely sounded sweeter. Kudos to the Florida trio for really nailing the fuck out of this song.
So as a Jawbreaker purist and as a fan of the current bands involved, I wasn't really let down in the overall performance. My two big complaints are song selection and band selection. No band was brave enough to tackle such classics as "Sister," "Sea Foam Green," "Condition: Oakland," "Accident Prone," or personal favorite "Oyster" [which would have been incredibly easy to cover in either style], it seems. As for the lineup, it has a few really big names, but mostly it's up-and-comers or bands who have more or less plateaued at their current level of popularity/name recognition. I can't believe that Jawbreaker didn't influence bigger bands of today - maybe Dying Wish didn't look hard enough? Maybe they did but those bands wanted exhorbant amounts of money? Any answer is possible. But those two minor complaints aside, the CD is rather solid from start to finish, and seems like a heartfelt tribute to the Bay Area punk trio, as opposed to an easy cash-in disc. It's worth your money if you're a purist or a fan of the lineup.
Face To Face - Boat Dreams From The Hill
Bigwig - Ashtray Monument
Sparta - Kiss The Bottle
Fall Out Boy - Save Your Generation
Nerf Herder - Chesterfield King