FEATURE: The 5 Essential Jawbreaker Tracks

FEATURE: The 5 Essential Jawbreaker Tracks

This week, legendary Bay Area emotional punk rock band Jawbreaker play their first UK and EU shows in over 25 years. Bookended by two very different kinds of festivals (Groezrock and Primavera) the band take to London’s Kentish Town Forum (27th) and Manchester’s Albert Hall (28th) this weekend to the amazement of a whole generation of fans who assumed they would never get to see their heroes.

Jawbreaker exists in a strange between-world in the punk rock subculture. The band are adored, respected and renowned by scene veterans and a younger generation who discovered them often through acts such as Green Day and Nirvana (whom Jawbreaker shared stages with both) as the massively influential emo-tinged punk rock band who would go on to inspire a slew of bands after their demise in 1996 to this day. Despite supporting and being promoted by these hugely popular acts, however, they are still considered a major-label flop.

The trio of Blake Schwarzenbach (lead vocals, guitar), Chris Bauermeister (bass, backing vocals) and Adam Pfahler (drums) are considered to be the archetypal 90s emo band despite existing at a time between the genre’s two peaks of mid-80s and mid-to-late-90s. The release of their final album, 1995’s Dear You, however, on DGC Records on a $1 Million contract was seen as a betrayal to the underground scene that had put the band on their pedestal in the first place, yet were too emotive and densely layered to appeal to a mainstream audience.

Jawbreaker’s long, drawn-out demise over 1995 and 1996 was a tragic and somewhat unfair end to what had been an incredible period for many obsessed fans who sought Schwarzenbach as their cult hero for his poetic lyrics and strained vocal delivery. He was a gruff, street-smart punk who tapped into an emotional vulnerability that remains an enigma. Equally, Bauermeister and Pfahler’s cohesiveness and inventiveness as a rhythm section made for a magical combination that has only aged better and better with time.

Thankfully, the trio patched up old wounds and reunited in 2017 to headline Chicago’s Riot Fest, followed by a full US tour over the last year, which has by all accounts been considered the triumphant return and success such a beloved and influential band thoroughly deserve. With that in mind, we take a look at the Jawbreaker’s 5 most essential tracks from their four studio albums and one compilation album ahead of the band’s return to these shores this week.

1. Want (Unfun, 1990)

In many ways, the first song from Jawbreaker’s debut album is very much their defining statement. It is a pop-punk classic that will occasionally find its way on the playlist of a similarly themed club night, but more than anything it is a brilliant pop song about a classic desire. It is a song about unrequited love and all the messy emotions that go along with it. The simplicity of the chorus “I-aye-aye-aye, I-aye-aye-aye, I want you” breaks down the bounciness of Bauermeister’s iconic bassline and Schwarzenbach’s typically self-tormenting lyrics. It is a song that perfectly captures the awful place desire can lead us to with all its temporary highs and crushing lows. It is about as perfect an example of the emo meets pop punk dreaminess Jawbreaker would go on to define themselves as being.


2. Kiss The Bottle (Etc., 1992)

Despite, or perhaps because of, not appearing on any of Jawbreaker’s four studio albums, ‘Kiss The Bottle’ is the connoisseurs choice of the back catalogue. One only has to look at the song being their most often covered song, stretching from the likes of Lucero or Rise Against right through to Foo Fighters. Originally written for a compilation of songs about San Francisco’s Mission District, ‘Kiss The Bottle’ tells a heartbreaking story about addiction, poor life choices and love lost within one of The Golden City’s most renowned areas. However, beyond the Springsteen-esque storytelling this track presents, it is also notable for being the final Schwarzenbach recording before his vocal chord surgery, making ‘Kiss The Bottle’ recognisable for his raspy, constantly breaking voice. It, therefore, is such an outstanding song in Jawbreaker’s back catalogue because it comes at a crucial time in their career. This song proves Jawbreaker was an exceptional group, something they would prove consistently for the rest of their short-lived career.


3. Chesterfield King (Bivouac, 1992)

Jawbreaker’s second album Bivouac, named after the temporary camps used by soldiers or mountaineers, proved the band’s ambition beyond being just a punk rock band. It experimented with form and pushed the already rapidly expanding boundaries they had presented previously. It is the most densely layered and longest album of the trio’s oeuvre, meaning it needs greater patience than any of their other work, but it is also often the most rewarding. The epic ten-minute title track, for instance, was practically unheard of for a punk band to attempt. However, with ‘Chesterfield King’ there was proof they could still write “a hit”. Despite Schwarzenbach’s softer delivery as a result of his operation, however, the track still packs quite the punch, in keeping with the album’s general fight-or-flight spirit, and remains a subtle classic.


4. Do You Still Hate Me? (24 Hour Revenge Therapy, 1994)

Ok, so, here’s the curveball. If you’re reading this and you’ve only heard one Jawbreaker song, chances are it’s ‘Boxcar’. And even if you haven’t heard that song, you will know it as Green Day‘s ‘The Grouch’ or, later, ‘She’s a Rebel’. Green Day and Jawbreaker are interesting comparison points, as both existed in the Bay Area scene from almost identical timelines. Both group’s respective seminal records, Dookie and 24 Hour Revenge Therapy were released a week apart, and both seemed to capture the zeitgeist of a soon-to-be post-Nirvana world. However, Green Day had already signed to a major label and instantly took the world by storm, while the much cooler Jawbreaker were the critical darlings of the genre. Steve Albini’s production has much to do with this album’s success, of which ‘Do You Still Hate Me?’ is the finest example. It is a blistering, breathless example of what the band are capable of, showcasing the hard work and fighting that often comes with relationships. ‘Do You Still Hate Me?’ is very much the sequel to the previously mentioned ‘Want’, except this time, after all that chasing and desire, the focaliser finds the relationship isn’t all that it was cracked up to be.


5. Accident Prone (Dear You, 1995)

While ‘Boxcar’ has up until recently been Jawbreaker’s best known and most iconic song, it may well have recently been overtaken by ‘Accident Prone’. Coming from the band’s originally unfairly maligned final record, Dear You, ‘Accident Prone’ displays the much cleaner sound that buoyed their sole major-label record. This apparent sanitised sound was one of the main reasons die-hard fans rejected what would become Jawbreaker’s final transmission, however, Dear You eventually found favour in the younger generation of fans. One such fan is Memphis, Tennessee troubadour Julien Baker, whose stunning cover of Jawbreaker’s most heartbreaking song has brought an entirely different set of ears to the 90s icons. It is, perhaps, no coincidence that her performance, dating back as early as 2016, played a small part in this much-loved band’s reformation a year later. Regardless, the road to redemption for the trio and this album especially was a long and arduous one, but those songs are now just as welcome in their sets as the rest of their material. No wonder many are so very excited to finally witness it.


Jawbreaker play London’s Kentish Town Forum on Saturday 27th April and Manchester’s Albert Hall on Sunday 28th.


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