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Saves the Day - 9 Music Album Reviews

On the former emo standby’s first album in five years, Chris Conley documents the history of the band, missing the reason they mattered as he recalls his chart-topping glory days.

Saves the Day have long operated with an inflated sense of self. “This song will become the anthem of your underground,” Chris Conley sang on 2001’s Stay What You Are. At the time, he may not have been far off. It’s hard to imagine mid-2000s alternative had the band’s lyrical forthrightness not inspired a wave of suburban adolescents to buy studded belts, pick up guitars, and whine about their relationships. Post-hardcore outfits like Midtown were the very offspring of the New Jersey scene Saves the Day helped foster, while Fall Out Boy, the genre’s savviest shapeshifters, first connected through a shared love of Saves the Day’s 1999 benchmark, Through Being Cool.

But after more lineup changes than years in existence and consistent record-label hopscotch, Saves the Day can barely be considered the same group that once clogged Case Logic binders; instead, during the past decade, Conley used the name for ill-fated concept albums and public mental breakdowns. With 9, the band’s first record in five years, Conley hopes to create a lyrical scrapbook of sorts from an earlier era of the band: “This album is the story of Saves the Day and my own personal journey through life,” Conley announced, “which all unfolded as my relationship with music progressed.” It is a document meant to capture the moment he ruled, if not the world, at least “the scene.”

While bands like Rites of Spring and Sunny Day Real Estate pioneered the emotive lyricism that would inspire the much-maligned subgenre’s name, Saves the Day brought emo and its cultural associations to the mass audiences of MTV with blunt, lovelorn lyrics, ripped from the pages of a teenage diary. Their forebears often hid their emotions behind weepy metaphors about wilting flowers, but Saves the Day plainly didn’t care about being cool: “I wish I had friends like that,” Conley shouted on their first record. “They’d always be there for me/I wouldn’t look bad/Yeah, they wouldn’t talk behind my back.” Like a good episode of “Degrassi”, Saves the Day spoke directly to the insecurities any awkward kid might face in high school.

On 9, Conley applies a similarly honest approach to a different subject matter. Conley’s no longer being picked last in gym class; he’s rocking out on a Les Paul, signing to large labels, and singing about it all. “Oh yeah, we’re writing a record,” he begins on opener “Saves the Day.” On his later records, Conley was derided for more moody, complex arrangements. Not here: These songs are choppy, fast, and elemental, with his saccharine voice somehow pitched higher than on those songs he recorded two decades ago. Save for the blown-out breakdown in the 21-minute saga “29,” the guitar riffs are clean and catchy. Despite the attempts to recreate the dense power chords and pained whines that made Saves the Day emo poster boys, the formula fails when applied through Conley’s rose-colored vision of his own glory days.

Nostalgia can be potent and poignant, of course, but Conley fumbles it by assuming the audience is still just as enamored with his band as he is. “You’re gonna love it/You’ll know it forward and backward,” he continues. “We’ll get it stuck in your head every day.” Perhaps with 20 years remove, the band’s success is all that Conley remembers about albums that codified the growing pains of early adulthood for so many. Absent of emotional context, it feels delusional and desperate: “Let’s sing along another 20 years,” Conley begs, conjuring up the cursed image of a wrinkled, 50-year-old Saves the Day performing “At Your Funeral” at some kind of twelfth-wave emo revival cruise full of retirees.

For the rest of the album, he tries, with the same play-by-play specificity, to paint a picture of Saves the Day’s early accolades and kinetic energy. But like the wildest moments of teenage debauchery, the stories are cooler when retold without the bad parts. On “Suzuki” and “Side by Side,” Conley recounts the making of Can’t Slow Down, calling out the record by name. It comes off as a half-brag—“Come over Friday/And bring your Les Paul”—and half-desperate ploy for eternal youth—“We’re faded on a Thursday before midnight in a basement in New Brunswick.”

Then there are Conley’s days “on the road,” his self-mythology made self-important through song titles like “Kerouac and Cassidy.” His memories of international tours and playing Conan come off like a jock recalling athletic feats while drinking bottled domestics at a high school reunion: simplistic and overeager, leaving the listener incredulous that they ever happened. And for a band whose lyrics have inspired body ink, lazy rhymes like “Rendez-vous sidestage/Parlez-vous Anglais?” just seem sad.

Conley has said 9 is a love letter to Saves the Day’s fans. He enthusiastically thanks his listeners multiple times here, as on the fast and loud ode to longevity, “Suzuki.” But in a bigger sense, Conley has completely misrepresented their fandom. Saves the Day lifers, the ones who come to their reunion shows and still speak of Conley’s lyrical feats, found the band because they spoke to their lived experience as misfits and losers. But it’s impossible to relate to the world Conley has built for himself on 9, with heartbreaks at the top of the Eiffel Tower and tours through Berlin in a Mercedes-Benz. And when Conley bursts into ecstatic rhapsodies about the beauty of the world during 9, it feels dismissive and out of touch with the moment, like a therapist gaslighting patients. Saves the Day was once the biggest band in the scene—if only Conley could remember why.

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