In Praise Of... Jawbreaker's 24 Hour Revenge Therapy

The first time I heard 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was a Saturday afternoon sometime in 1997 – I’d bought it earlier that day at a second-hand record store in Canterbury. The jewel case was missing, meaning there was just the booklet and CD, but that meant it was cheaper, so that was fine.

I’d got it because I had an R.E.M. tribute album called Surprise Your Pig, which featured a bunch of punk bands covering the alt-rock legends, including Jawbreaker’s take on Pretty Persuasion, which I liked. I vividly remember sitting on my bed, booklet in hand, playing the CD and wondering what the fuck I was listening to. But I also remember really wanting and trying to like it, because the lyrics I was reading in that booklet were too good to go to waste (more on this later). I was about to give up when Do You Still Hate Me? came on, and finally it clicked. The words and the music coalesced and suddenly it all made such clear, vivid sense – the agony and desperation, the longing and uncertainty, the heart-torn nostalgia and bleak, poetic romanticism, Blake Schwarzenbach’s bruised and cigarette-shot vocals shouting ‘And I miss youuuuuuuu’ above this intense, incessant, urgent, pounding tune that was at once abrasive and catchy, that was beautiful but also really fucking raw and real. It was truly a moment of epiphany, after which every song that followed sprang immediately to life – the jaded celebration of West Bay Invitational (“We hung our clothes up on the floor and put our faith in a closed door”), the abject, inconsolable heartache of Jinx Removing (“I love you more than I ever loved anyone before or anyone to come. Someone said your name, I thought of you alone. I was just the same, twenty blocks away”) and the desperation and resignation of final track In Sadding Around (“Got my first glimpse of the sky. The stars were on your side”).

And so I went back to the start and listened again, each track speaking to me in a way I felt like music had never spoken to me before, not least Ashtray Monument (”Best friends, strangers now. Were our kids all we could call common ground?”) and the slow, sad burn of Ache (“I never felt like this before. I say that every hour”), both of which remain two of my favourite ever songs. And then, of course, there’s Boxcar, the band’s best-known track and the quintessential pop-punk song which pre-dated pop-punk and which so easily dismissed and destroyed the emerging sanctimony and elitism of punk rock with its infamous opening couplet: “You’re not punk and I’m telling everyone. Save your breath, I never was one.” Because, of course, Jawbreaker were always much more than punk – transcending the genre with their complex yet simple, cerebral yet emotional, literary yet accessible tunes. And nowhere is that more evident than on 24 Hour Revenge Therapy. It’s a dark, late night cigarette of a record, one full of hope and despair and jaded existentialism which burns your throat as much as it soothes your nerves, but 20 years later it remains a pivotal piece of art. (A brief aside: You’ll notice I’ve been quoting lyrics after each song title – although separated out of context they may lose some power, I’d argue that no punk record – or any record, for that matter – comes close to matching Schwarzenbach’s words on this one. I recently interviewed Chris Conley from Saves The Day and he told me that once for a college poetry paper he copied out this album’s lyrics and told his professor they were from a poetry collection by someone called Blake Scwarzenbach and his teacher was none the wiser. They really are that good.)

Anyway, in the year of its release, 24 Hour Revenge Therapy was majorly eclipsed by the success of Dookie and Smash, albums which propelled Green Day and The Offspring – and punk rock in general – into the arms of the mainstream. Much as I love those records, they don’t even come close for me. Now, it’s being reissued – on vinyl and CD – for its slightly delayed 20th anniversary with a bunch of bonus material. Brilliantly, they’re not remastering it, because they feel that lo-fi, raw, roughshod sound suits the atmosphere of the album perfectly. And it does. It captured something that, to this day, sounds both of its time and absolutely timeless. I hope that when it comes out, more people will understand that, will be able to live and feel this record that so many people have already lived and felt over the past two decades. We’ll see. But as soon as it arrives in the mail (yes, I pre-ordered both the vinyl and the CD), I’m going to put the needle down, sit in my room, listen to the album and read along to the lyrics as if it were my first time. It’s going to be perfect.