Jawbreaker - Dear You (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick


Dear You (1995)

DGC Records

Writing a review of Jawbreaker’s Dear You in 2015 is quite the task, because there are three views of the album that need to be touched on. Many of the band’s diehard fans felt the album inking a $1 million dollar deal with DGC Records made them sellouts. This feeling was compounded by the more melodic and significantly higher production values than were on the band’s previous effort 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. There’s also the influence the album had on bands whose members came of age listening to the album. And finally, one has to look at how the album exists on its own in a vacuum.

First, one has to address the death throe of many punk rock bands, Jawbreaker perhaps among them, the damning term of “sellout.” Yes, the band inked a million dollar deal with a major record label. In 1995, punk bands doing this wasn’t a new occurrence: Husker Du had jumped ship to a major nearly a decade beforehand and many other bands followed suit. However, it was still considered taboo for any band under the punk or indie umbrella to make the leap they did. And they were met with critique from the community they were a part of. Looking band on this in 2015, it almost seems silly for a band like Jawbreaker to be chastised for this. While it’s true, Blake Schwarzenbach had stated in an interview with Panic Button that the band had no interest in signing to a major record label, however this was also a band who had two members that were homeless less than a year earlier and was on the verge of breaking up. Maybe it was a final act of desperation to breathe life back into the band or maybe it was Blake and Adam Pfahler fearing a return to homelessness. Whatever their reason, Jawbreaker signed a major label deal by the end of 1994. Had they done the same thing in 2014, aside from some minor backlash, it’s very likely the punk community would have been more receptive.

Something even today’s punk community would have been less receptive to was the change in sound between 24 Hour Revenge Therapy and Dear You. While there’s nothing wrong with a progression in a band’s sound throughout their career, Jawbreaker’s sound shifted as much from one album to the next as the previously Husker Du did between Everything Falls Apart and their major label debut Candy Apple Grey which came out four years later. There were of course some outside factors that may have contributed to how Jawbreaker had to write songs in this instance. Blake had major throat surgery prior to the recording of 24 Hour Revenge Therapy which created a somewhat noticeable change in vocal delivery on that album. The encompassed with the cleaner production on Dear You tamed Blake’s voice even more. Which shouldn’t really matter, if all Blake was capable of mustering was a throaty whisper the louder punk music found on their previous efforts would most certainly have overpowered the vocals. If the change in sound was one of pure necessity rather than choice it may have been seen as forgivable by some of the punk community. However, one need look no further than the change in producers to see there was intent involved on either the part of the band or the label. Whereas Steve Albini had produced 24 Hour Revenge Therapy, Rob Cavallo was recruited to produce Dear You. While Albini had his hand in many major label releases in the 90s, he was valued for his ability to capture a band’s raw sound, Rob Cavallo was by-and-large a pop producer who understood how rock music worked.

One only need hear the opening track “Save Your Generation” to understand why Cavallo was selected as a producer; previously Jawbreaker had been a punk band who understood song structure. It becomes almost immediately clear their sound had shifted to that of an early nineties indie band with a great debt to punk music. This wasn’t a bad thing. The album doesn’t suffer musically ddue to the shift in songwriting style. While at the time songs like the album opener, “Fireman”, “Chemistry”, and “Bad Scene, Everyone’s Fault” alienated long time fans, they are great songs. The chord progressions and more melodic guitar leads than were found on previous albums, made songs that were musically memorable for people outside of the punk community. Certainly tracks from previous albums like “Indictment”, “Boxcar”, “Chesterfield King”, and “P.S. New York Is Burning” are catchy punk songs, they are still punk songs. The development of guitar and vocal melodies, more melodic bridges, and choruses more in line with traditional rock music allowed the band to step outside of the scene. Unfortunately, what was supposed to open the band up to a new audience, would alienate new fans so quickly the band found themselves playing to unappreciative audiences and longtime fans who would turn their back on the band when they played songs from Dear You.

All of that being said, the musical shift not only could have been forgiven but likely would have been forgiven, however when compounded with a different lyrical style by Blake the change was just too dramatic. Don’t take that the wrong way; the lyrics on this album are amazing. Blake gets off prefect lines in almost every song. With some of the best coming in “Fireman”, “Accident Prone”, “Chemistry”, “Lurker II: Dark Son of Knight”, and “Basilica” … there was however a change in how the lyrics were presented. Previously, Blake’s lyrics came off like private moments he was sharing with his fans. And for that, fans felt like he wasn’t a musician they went to see. But, rather he was a friend telling them about their lives over three chords. With the release of Dear You Blake’s lyrical approach went from being that of the inward looking guy drinking a beer next to you on a couch at a house party to being the guy holding court in another room at that same party looking out at the scene through somewhat jaded eyes.

Truth be told, it worked. Perhaps, it worked too well. If someone listened to the album for the first time in 2015, their first reaction would be it sounds somewhat formulamatic. Which speaks to the volume of its influence, Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American may well have not existed without this album. Numerous bands from At the Drive In, Fallout Boy, Bayside, and My Chemical Romance have cited Jawbreaker as an influence. For all the fallout over signing to a major label and drastically changing their sound the band received at the time. Twenty years later you wouldn’t know it, the stylistic influence in both the underground and mainstream punk communities in immeasurable. And while they, Green Day, The Offspring, and many others took guff for signing to a major at the time … today it doesn’t seem to ruffle quite as many feathers. On their track “Indictment” from 24 Hour Revenge Therapy Blake sang, “If you think we changed our tune, hope we did.” Not only did they change their tune, they changed an entire scene.