Emo kids can be a prickly bunch. While I can’t speak for all of them, I’ve got a buddy a few years younger than I am who’s keyed into the scene; I know how devoted emo fans can be. And while much of the time being a fan is spent arguing what exactly “emo” is or if the genre exists at all, the simple definition is that emo is a lot like pornography: You know it when you see it. In most cases, any deviation from the formula of big, punky guitars married to confessional lyrics sung by a 20-something-year-old guy with tattoos (think Chris Carrabba from Dashboard Confessional) gets a band expelled from the emo community by the rabid fanbase.
That’s what makes the latest from emo powerhouses Saves the Day, In Reverie, intriguing. But first a little backstory: The New Jersey-based quartet scored MTV airplay (whatever that’s worth) in 2002 with semi-hits “At Your Funeral” and “Freakish” off 2001’s Stay What You Are. They had solid reviews, a nice home at renowned emo safehaven Vagrant Records (Alkaline Trio, Hot Rod Circuit, etc.), and were in touch with their fans—in April 2002, the band played a benefit show a few towns over from me for a teenager who was involved in a car accident. Life was good. But if you think I’m going to say that they threw it all away with In Reverie, you’re dead wrong. Sure, Saves the Day now calls monolithic Dreamworks Records home and lead singer Chris Conley has abandoned some of his emo moping to get in touch with his inner power popster, but the end result is nothing less than Saves the Day’s best album to date. Some emo purists may have given it a chilly reception (says my buddy, who’s now an unwitting mouthpiece for an entire movement, “I like their old stuff better”.); those new to the fold who are curious about the emo scene but are put off by its mostly teenage demographics and insularity, In Reverie is a great place to start.
The opening strains of the first track highlight Conley’s newfound pop sensibility. “Anywhere With You” sparkles like a diamond, and the rhythm section of bassist Eben D’Amico and drummer Pete Parada imbue the song with a disco-ey beat. It’s pure pop for emo people. And lest one think that Conley’s writing style has changed, rest assured he’s still having girl troubles: “I know I can’t come near you / Every time I do / I get the shaking inside… / I’d rather be here / Than anywhere with you”. Conley’s delivery may take some getting used to—his high, reedy voice is, putting it nicely, an acquired taste—but it’s the right fit for the lyrics, and he’s undoubtedly STD’s mop-topped soul.
There’s not a wasted note on In Reverie, as no track runs longer than 3:40. If anything, one is left wishing that shimmering, unerringly catchy numbers like “In My Waking Life”, “Morning in the Moonlight”, and the title track ran on a little longer than they do. But as luck would have it, Conley and fellow guitarist David Soloway’s pop hooks dig into one’s brains; the songs are hummable long after they’re over.
It’s almost as if Conley was powerless to stop the catchy songs from flowing from his pen. No matter how hard he tries to scuff up In Reverie, he still makes lines like “Bottles breaking on my face / Are only a reminder of your love I lost a lifetime ago” sound beautiful. They just as soon could have spewed from the lead singer of a hardcore screamo band, but they’re much more palatable couched in Saves the Day’s lush pop orchestration.
There’ll be plenty of emo kids disappointed by STD’s move out of the emo ghetto with In Reverie. Don’t let their posturing keep you from exploring a fantastic pop record. This ain’t your kid brother’s emo band.