(5 out of 5)
Back in the post-Nirvana mid-‘90s, major labels were scooping up — or at least attempting to scoop up — nearly every indie band with half a tour and a couple of seven-inches under their belt. The rationale was that if a band as unlikely as Nirvana could shake the foundations of popular music, anyone could be the next to hit it big? Of course, most of those signings weren’t home runs. Instead, they were messy, called-strike ejections, with scores of unprepared indie and alternative bands all being thrown against the same wall in the hopes that one would stick. But at the time, anything seemed possible, so it was with resigned and hopeful trepidation that fans screamed “sellout” (and whispered “good luck”) at DC post-punk stalwarts Jawbox when the band signed to Atlantic. On one hand, everyone truly wished the band success, due both to their exceptional music and their generous and positive attitude. But on the other, the eternal fear of watered-down songs, embarrassing promotional stunts and death by disinterest stoked plenty of worry. Jawbox’s response to all of it was 1994’s FOR YOUR OWN SPECIAL SWEETHEART, one of the most bracing major-label debuts of the era. The feedback-drenched, percussive explosion of “FF=66” serves as a strong opening salvo, introducing potential fans to the band’s patented blend of bruising anthems and melodic noise, while “Savory” – released, somewhat quixotically, as a single – is a slow-burn exposé of furious dynamics. From there, Jawbox barely relents, unleashing an album’s worth of everything that made DC’s underground music scene seem so unbelievably important at the time. Unsurprisingly, SWEETHEART didn’t exactly set the charts on fire; and although the band was able to release another album (1996’s JAWBOX) on Atlantic, the band was dropped in late 1996 and broke up soon afterward. SWEETHEART remained out of print for nearly a decade, despite Jawbox’s efforts to reclaim their work; finally, though, with this reissue – which is exquisitely remastered and tacks on three bonus tracks – it’s possible to once again hear what it sounds like when a great band grabs a brass ring for all the right reasons.