As soon as the churning cavalcade of guitars and synths that so grandiosely kicks “Holiday” right into full gear hit my headphones, I knew what I wanted for Christmas that year: a Moog synthesizer. Sadly, that wish went unfulfilled, as did my dream of becoming a synth player in a super cool band and getting signed to Vagrant Records. But for a brief moment, when I was finally able to acquire a used synth on eBay a few years later, I turned some random knobs, hit some keys, and could almost hear Matt Pryor encouraging me along as I used my rudimentary knowledge of the piano to clumsily play some of the synthesized notes on my favorite tracks from an album that had made a tremendous impact on me during my teenage years.
Something to Write Home About by The Get Up Kids has definitely stood the test of time in terms of albums from emo’s “second wave” in the late 90’s, and it’s one of few albums from that era and scene that I still listen to with any sort of regularity (The others that come to mind right away are Through Being Cool by Saves The Day and If It Weren’t For Venetian Blinds… by Piebald). Bookended by the punchy, promising, but still rough-around-the-edges Four Minute Mile and the sadly misunderstood foray into alt-country and more contemplative musical realms that was On A Wire, STWHA remains the band’s most cohesive, impactful album to date both lyrically and sonically. Longtime fans who came of age during the height of the scene when that album reigned supreme still reference it with a certain reverence and fondness usually saved for albums that reach a Pinkerton-level legendary status. I was lucky enough to see Matt Pryor perform an intimate acoustic set to about 40 people this past spring, and it was the songs he played from STWHA that instantly changed the energy in the room and united fans ranging in age from early-twenties to maybe mid-thirties in an unspoken bond for a few spellbinding minutes. His solo acoustic versions of “Valentine,” “Out Of Reach,” “I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel,” and “I’ll Catch You” sounded just as fresh, passionate, and genuine as they did on the record nearly fifteen years earlier, and he sent them out to this intimate gathering of fans like love letters sealed with a sense of true appreciation for following and supporting the band so faithfully throughout the years.
From the onslaught of swirling guitar and synth-driven sounds that propel the listener headfirst into “Holiday” and powerfully mark the album’s opening with an angsty call to action, all the way to the much softer and more tender closing lines of the final track, “I’ll Catch You,” this album definitely keeps you on your toes. It’s full of shifts and surprises; the ballads and downtempo songs that immediately follow more turbulent, energetic tracks still kind of catch me off guard in a good way, and even the quieter songs that seem like they’ll remain subdued and gentle until the end (“Long Goodnight,” “I’ll Catch You”) take an unexpectedly glorious turn and crescendo with a sudden swell of emotion and noise. As a teenager schooled mostly in punk and post-grunge bands, I was able to develop an appreciation for those quieter, more poignant moments along with the easily accessible, uptempo tracks that were more in my musical comfort zone at that time. In many ways the album became a gateway for maturation and for exciting new musical discoveries that have led me to where I am now. It provided a direct pipeline to other Vagrant bands like The Anniversary and Reggie and The Full Effect, and from there, I was well equipped to navigate this nebulous new territory known as “emo” and would quickly fall head over heels in love with not only the explosive melodies and confessional lyrics that defined it as a musical genre, but the vintage t-shirts, Chuck Taylors, and Rivers Cuomo style glasses that became its accoutrements.
Like pretty much every 90’s kid who owned the album and listened to music that could be labeled as “emo,” I spent countless hours in my room poring over the self-conscious, angst ridden lyrics to songs like “Action & Action” and “Red Letter Day,” which were tinged with a bitterness and dejection that validated my adolescent woes like none other. But petulance and self-pity aside, it was always just plain fun to rock out to the album’s especially driving, tightly crafted, poppy moments. I’d rarely make it through the entire disc without hitting repeat at least once on both “Ten Minutes” and “I’m A Loner, Dottie, A Rebel,” both of which were songs that almost inspired me to actually start taking drum lessons. Those two songs in particular kickstarted my then tenuous sense of appreciation for catchy rock music that I don’t think I had felt since listening to Weezer’s “Blue Album” as a much younger kid. Aside from Weezer and Blink-182, not to mention the onslaught of teen pop stars and boy bands that had become hugely popular in the late 90’s, I don’t think I had ever heard anything quite as infectiously “poppy” as some of my favorite tracks on STWHA. As someone who had always been more drawn to the dark, downcast corners of music, art, and literature (I was also a huge Smiths fan at the time and remain so to this day), it was a rare occurrence for me to become completely captivated by melodies and vocals as spirited and punchy as those in the aforementioned tracks. This newfound love of pop-infused rock and punk led me down a long path of bands and artists I still listen to regularly, from Saves The Day to The Swellers, and after many years of intrepid traveling, I still see no visible end in sight.
Fifteen years later, I can’t help but still hear the influence of the style that The Get Up Kids perfected on STWHA in several of my more recently appointed favorite albums. When I heard The Greatest Generation by The Wonder Years for the first time last year, the lyricism, musicianship and vocals were so strongly evocative of The Get Up Kids circa ’99-‘02 that I described them to a good friend as “The equivalent to The Get Up Kids for kids today.” The album’s influence spans far and wide, from third wave emo bands like The Early November and the synth heavy Motion City Soundtrack that rose up right in its wake, to modern pop punk bands like Driver Friendly and Light Years, and also to the increasingly popular so-called “emo revival” bands like You Blew It! who harken back to that signature late 90’s sound.
So while my halfhearted dreams of becoming a drummer or keyboardist in a Vagrant-era emo band went completely unfulfilled, Something To Write Home About had a powerful, lasting impact on me nonetheless. These twelve songs that Matt Pryor and his bandmates crafted fifteen years ago with such heart-on-sleeve genuineness and passion have also had a long lasting impact on countless kids and young adults who were finding their voice and discovering their purpose right around the same time that I was. Some have kept that inspiration and passion alive by going on to write music that draws from a similar well, and some like me have simply developed a deep, continued appreciation and reverence for music of many genres that can all be traced back to the spark ignited by the awe-inspiring fusion of bright, swelling chords, synth drenched hooks, and thoughtful, relatable lyrics that make Something To Write Home About truly live up to its title.