Underappreciated Album: The Juliana Theory’s Emotion is Dead.
In 1999, I had a chance to see Audio Adrenaline when they were on tour supporting Underdog– arguably their best release in a prolific career. Unfortunately, I didn’t like the album enough at the time to lay out the money, so I missed out on a show that I would have really, really liked.
A few years later, I accidentally did the same thing, only the band was The Juliana Theory and the CD was Emotion is Dead. At the time, I thought The Juliana Theory was pretty good, but not good enough for me to go to the bad side of town, spend 20 bucks, and suffer through some subpar openers.
I kick myself about once every month for that decision, because not only is Emotion is Dead the best album that the Juliana Theory has ever released, that show is the only time TJT has ever come to Tulsa.
It’s easy to overlook Emotion is Dead– it was released on Tooth and Nail to little fanfare, as TJT’s previous offering Understand This Is a Dream was a builder album, not a breaker album. Another problem is that everything TJT has released after Emotion is Dead was different than this sound, so no one feels the urge to search their back catalog. A third problem is that the main marketed track off the album was a major-key pop song (“Top of the World”), instead of one of the dark, epic emo tracks that sprawl across the majority of this album. Fourthly, this album was on the forefront of the nu-wave emo movement- a year ahead of Thursday’s eponymous Full Collapse and two ahead of the disastrous Tell All Your Friends by Taking Back Sunday- so now that emo is a bad word in the indie-rock world, all those previously associated with it are blacklisted.
All of those problems have conspired to bury Emotion is Dead. But it can’t be buried. It is an amazing collection of songs that capture the mindset of one very conflicted set of people. If you like music, you will find something that piques your interest on this album.
After two straight-ahead mid-tempo rockers (“Into the Dark” and “Don’t Push Love Away”), TJT introduces us to the furious rock stomp that is “To the Tune of 5,000 Screaming Children”. Serving more as an appetizer than the main event, it’s one of many anthems that TJT will serve up in the span of the album. “To the Tune…” has arguably the best lyrics on the album: “We’re not misinformed or misdirected, functioning on your subjective, your hatred only fuels us on.” The snarling lyrics and charging guitars of this song are only offset by the occasional calls of “Check it out!” and “woo!”- they know it’s a rock song.
Then the single hits- and “Top of the World” is pretty much the perfect pop song. There’s handclaps, devilishly catchy melodies, sha-la-la’s, the whole bit. It’s a bit randomly placed, but it’s a good song.
And finally, we reach the meat of the album- the part where the jaws start dropping. “Is Patience Still Waiting?” is the first track that fuses their passion to their progressiveness. The beginning is a pensive, straight-ahead rocker like “Into the Dark”, but throughout the song builds up to the bridge, where a solo acoustic guitar comes in. A breathy voice whispers “come on…” a few times, building up the suspense, until unexpectedly, the vocals jumps straight to a scream. Right over an acoustic guitar. And the guitars burn the rest of the way.
“If I Told You This Was Killing Me, Would You Stop?” is another emo charger, parading out more vitriolic lyrics and showcasing their skill at layering vocal melodies. But those are just the arteries leading to the main core- and that main core is two songs: “We’re Nothing Without You” and the 14-minute closer “You Always Say Goodnight, Goodnight/Emotion is Dead Pt. 2.”
“We’re Nothing Without You” is a dark slow-burner- a track that draws its power from background synths, shifty bass lines, and a lot of melancholy. When Brett Detar calls out “We are nothing!” at the end of the morose chorus, it’s spine-tingling. But when he calls out “We are nothing without you!” as a sampled clip of soldiers marching and chanting plays in addition to the shifty bass lines, background synths, and melancholy air, it’s positively enrapturing. It’s one of those sections of music that you repeat cause you just can’t believe it happened.
“You Always Say Goodnight, Goodnight” features a mournful piano line in the intro, and builds on that basis into a furiously pounding emo epic. It takes all of 8 minutes to get there, so there’s a lot of build and release (something sorely missing in much of music today, and definitely in short supply in emo). It also features the chanting soldiers again in the highlight of the song, as the drums pound away, Detar howls “You always say goodnight!”, and the guitars churn. It’s amazing.
The outro is an instrumental- a complex, dark, vibrant instrumental that makes me wonder why the rest of TJT’s output sucked so much if they had so much instrumental talent. The piano line and the techno influences are excellent.
This album took everything that was going on at the time and combined it- dark rock, punk, techno, emo, pop, all of it. It’s an amazingly diverse album, but it’s also very consistent in its songwriting quality. There’s not a bad song on here, from the acoustic “Something Isn’t Right” to the punked-out “Understand the Dream is Over” to emo epics like “You Always Say Goodnight, Goodnight.”
Emotion is Dead should be required listening for every member of any nu-wave emo band. It’s a nu-wave emo textbook, almost. Forget Taking Back Sunday- The Juliana Theory is where it’s at. Rest in Peace, Juliana Theory. You are awesome.