1994: Jawbox - For Your Own Special Sweetheart

Ignited by the commercial success of Nevermind, the major label signing frenzy of the early 90s was something to behold. Anchored in the notion that the day’s slew of post-Grunge and post-Hardcore bands could rein in mass appeal based on their inherent aggression and tunefulness became a popular one in many board rooms. Ultimately the phenomenon had an array of commercial outcomes that found some bands faltering under humdrum marketing efforts (Teenage Fanclub) and bad timing (Poster Children), with others succeeding under the disguise of emergent, underground curio (Sonic Youth) and MTV enshrinement (Soundgarden). Still others broke even, relying for better or worse on the sweat and artistic integrity that got them there in the first place. Enter Jawbox’s 1994 Atlantic Records debut, For Your Own Special Sweetheart. Reissued and re-mastered along with the Savory +3 single, it now exists as a rare gem from a strange and bygone era in contemporary music.

Generally regarded as the best in a stellar trilogy of albums (which also includes 1992’s Novelty and 1996’s self-titled final album) Sweetheart is status quo Jawbox — static on static, the crash of metal. Not particularly noted for evolving in their duration as a band, Jawbox hit the scene locked and loaded, unleashing the same disparate traits of fury, restraint, and melody that propelled some of the band’s more obvious forbearers like early Joy Division (think “Digital”) and the Minutemen. On Sweetheart, more so than any of their other albums, these traits are used with great versatility, allowing frenzied songs like “Chicago Piano,” “FF=66,” and “Jackpot Plus!” to sit alongside haunting, tense, and harmonious ballads like “Savory,” “U-Trau,” and “Cooling Card.” Only when these effects merge within single songs like “Reel” and “Breathe” does Sweetheart establish itself as one of the best albums of the 1990s.

Emerging in 1989 from a D.C. hardcore-punk scene that spawned Minor Threat, Rites of Spring, and Government Issue (of which Jawbox guitarist/vocalist J. Robbins was a part for a time), Jawbox recorded both their debut LP Grippe and follow-up Novelty for the indie-stalwart Dischord Records. Then they leapt to Atlantic where they recorded their final two albums. The decision to sign to a major, along with the pre-release speculation that Jawbox would be next in a dull line of punk-come-alternative bands, did nothing to forecast the spit-bite beauty of the final product. “This code is cracked,” Robbins shouts in opener “FF=66,” introducing us to an opus of similarly themed art-punk declarations that perpetuate the intensity that the band established during their short life in the underground.

Still, aside from the album’s lead single “Savory” (and perhaps “Cooling Card”) all signs pointed to an early dismissal from the major label ranks. Indeed, for the band’s next and last album, Jawbox was relegated to TAG Recordings, an Atlantic “alternative” subsidiary before being dropped altogether. It’s a homecoming of sorts then to find this reissue on D.C./Maryland-based Dischord and DeSoto Records. As ever, it finds J. Robbins either hollering or singing his skewbald, post-industrial poetry over left-field chord progressions. Though it was apparent in its initial release, this re-master brings forth a pummeling rhythm section that connects each song with sheer abrasion, menace, and varied time-signatures.

As it did for the Jesus Lizard earlier this year, this reissue takes on a re-contextualizing and canonizing effect. Examined 15 years after its original release, For Your Own Special Sweetheart emerges from an era of unprecedented corporate feasting as an unlikely and oft underappreciated surprise. With its influx of flailing hardcore tendencies, poetic abstraction, and nimble musical ability, Jawbox created a masterpiece the likes of which the trend-grabbing bandwagoneers and corporate big-wigs never truly understood.

1. FF=66
2. Savory
3. Breathe
4. Motorist
6. Cooling Card
7. Green Glass
8. Cruel Swing
9. Jackpot Plus!
10. Chicago Piano
11. Reel
12. U-Trau
13. Whitney Walks
14. Lil’ Shaver (Savory +3)
15. 68 (Savory +3)
16. Sound on Sound (Savory +3, Big Boys cover)


There’s a lot of good music out there, and it’s not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that’s not being pushed by a PR firm.

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