As 200 Sad Songs continues, we see the emo mob has been collectively consigned to the bin. But as the bleeding prose in Hannah Hold On teaches us, “emo” doesn’t have to be a dirty word.
A lot of bands follow a similar trajectory with their discographies: scrappy underdog album adored by a vocal few; breakthrough album loved and bought by many but fiercely hated by fans of the original; and then the market correction album, which sheds any fair-weather fans, while also displaying an urge to stop doing the thing that made the band hugely popular and therefore made them have to sling this same thing at people from various stages in various towns for years and years.
Also on The Big Smoke
- 200 Sad Songs: #188 Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Maps (2003)
- 200 Sad Songs: #189 Taylor Dayne – Love will lead you back (1990)
Often, this third record is also an example of a band’s newfound maturity (and a recent keen interest in the cello), which was the crux of the criticism levelled at Kansas City group The Get Up Kids, after they dared to age a few years and stop writing pop punk songs. Emo it was called back in the day, and like every single term coined to summarise a musical movement, it was rejected by those at the centre of it. At the turn of the century, The Get Up Kids were one of the most emo of the emo bands, back when it was acceptable to be so. Not surprisingly, as the term became a catch-all for depressed Emily the Strange types and fodder for hilariously frightened Today Tonight stories, the Get Up Kids fought to distance themselves from the fad, and made On a Wire, a tender, mostly-distortion-free album of… well, emo songs.
Ironically, it was less the musical left-turn (which in hindsight wasn’t really that sharp a shift) and more the success of their previous album – 1999’s excellent Something to Write Home About – that helped bury The Get Up Kids. That album’s financial success allowed their label Vagrant to sign Saves The Day and Dashboard Confessional, which in turn lessened the attention given to Get Up Kids, especially seeing they were actively distancing themselves from the fanbase they created. Removed from all that boring contextual stuff, On a Wire is an impressive record, a natural extension of their prior music – again, it’s not that different – which sits sonically with the likes of Built To Spill, Modest Mouse, Guided By Voices – the type of music coming out of insular indie scenes all around the country at the time.
Also on The Big Smoke
- 200 Sad Songs: #190 Eels – It’s a M*therfucker (2000)
- 200 Sad Songs: #191 Elliott Smith – I better be quiet now (2000)
- 200 Sad Songs: #192 Frank Ocean – Bad Religion (2012)
Hannah Hold On is the most accomplished song on the record, an aching closer with a number of deceptively sharp one-liners. “I never asked to be sorry”, it opens, and while vocalist Matt Pryor seems to mainly be combing through the embers of a relationship burnt by betrayal, it’s hard not to hear the song’s bridge – “You only disappoint the ones who don’t believe” – as a mission statement for the entire record. The ones who truly care can’t be disappointed, goes the reasoning, and while it’s lopsided in its logic, so are most arguments. “Hannah, hold on”, he begs, after spending two verses abandoning the ship, and all logic breaks down. He is leaving, because he wants her to want to stay? Or wants her to have not acted in the way that forced him to have to leave?
Whatever the reasoning, it’s a brilliant song, and emo is not a dirty word.