Washington DC post-hardcore quartet’s finest album has aged well.
Alex Deller 2010
Caught up in the bubbling major-label feeding frenzy of those strange post-Nevermind, post-Dookie years, Jawbox were one of the many coulda-been-a-contender acts chewed up and spat out by those that didn’t entirely know what to do with them.
A sweet 16 years after its original release, the band’s minor post-hardcore masterpiece comes home to roost via their own DeSoto imprint and punk rock lynchpin / former label Dischord, suggesting that time has applied its soothing balm to any smarts caused by the band’s shock departure for climes unknown and anathema to their staunchly DIY peers.
Heal all wounds as it might, the passage of time can also prove unkind to many a mothballed classic brought out for another airing only for fond memories to be replaced with nose-wrinkling shame or distaste. Thankfully that’s not the case here, this repackaged and remastered reintroduction ably holding its tendon-straining own amidst a scene that’s birthed Q & Not U and Faraquet in the interim and seen At the Drive-In creep up through the ranks to bring this wiry, rangy sound to the masses.
Rather than revel in the wanton experimentation or teeth-gnashing polemic of many a Fugazi wannabe, Jawbox always seemed to try and hammer their own eccentricities into a standard three-minute pop-rock mould, the results eminently hummable but at the same time deeply uneasy: the melodies are tense and off-kilter, the rhythm section constantly on the brink of nervous exhaustion and what could once have been world-beating hooks skid willy-nilly across the floor to shatter into glittering crystalline shards. It’s this inherent difficultness that’s perhaps leant For Your Own Special Sweetheart its longevity, the band’s refusal to play by the book forcing you to sit up and listen despite the pattern having been tried and tested by countless pairs of less capable hands since.
Indeed, it’s on this reissue’s safest moment (a lazy, rote reinterpretation of a Big Boys track tacked on alongside two far worthier extras) that this point is succinctly proven. But it’s a minor slip that detracts not a jot from the fact that cuts like Motorist, Cooling Card and Jackpot Plus! have more than enough to offer even those for whom ‘angular’ is a well-worn byword.