15 Years Later: The Get Up Kids “Something to Write Home About”

The Get Up Kids was part of the Midwestern “second-wave” emo scene in the mid 1990s with bands like Braid and The Promise Ring.  The band formed in Kansas City, MO and was made up of Matt Pryor, Ryan Pope, Rob Pope, Jim Suptic, and later James Dewees. They released their debut album, Four Minute Mile in 1997 to some critical acclaim. The album itself featured fan-favorites like “Stay Gold, Ponyboy” and “Michelle with one ‘L'” but was not an example of the band’s full potential.  The album was quite raw and the vocals never seemed quite loud enough.  But the emotions were there and the songs did have catchy elements. The Get Up Kids became one to watch.

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The Get Up Kids – Something to Write Home About (1999, Vagrant)

The band’s full potential was fully realized in 1999 when they released their breakthrough album, Something to Write Home About.  Along with Sunny Day Real Estate’s Diary (1994), The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good (1997), and Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity (1999), it is a lyrically strong and musically potent exploration of unrequited love, shifting friendships, and growing up. The songs were radio-friendly.

As far as perfect albums The Get Up Kids’ Something to Write Home About is as good as it gets.  In a scene of audiences that prefer screaming back each chorus and verse to just swaying along, Something to Write Home About is full of anthems.

Although there is are elements of emotional immaturity within the album, the songs spoke to a scene of delicate teens and 20-somethings. Like many of the seminal emo albums of the era, each song expresses an element of hope.  As if telling a story of real growth, the album starts with displeasure and disappointment and ends with approval and encouragement.

In “Action and Action,” there is a certain degree of longing for a troubled friend. “You taught me how/ to play the fool/ Every mistake I make/ I couldn’t have made without you.”  The razor sharp inflection in Pryor’s voice make the listener question how worth it the experience with this troubled one was.

Friendship and loyalty takes over in “Red Letter Day.” “We’re loyal/ Like brothers/ Just us verse all the others/…I trusted misleading promises/ worth repeating/ How could you do this to me?”  Whether it is about conflict with a record company or a disloyal peer, this song is a precursor for future disagreement laden songs of Taking Back Sunday and Brand New (“Cute Without the E” and “Seventy Times Seven,” respectively).

In “Ten Minutes,” one of most underrated songs on the album, there is a dichotomy between the feelings of two people. Early in the song, Jim Suptic is puzzled as he sings: “If I had to explain it/ I wouldn’t know where to start/ It’s like you’re falling in love/ while I just fall apart.” Later in the song, a conclusion is reached: “Sometimes I miss you more whenever I’m at home/ I’ve been home all summer/ Now I’m leaving you alone.”  Life is about knowing when to quit.

The album contains two very different songs tackle two very similar emotions. Matt Pryor takes lead on “I’m a Loner Dottie, a Rebel.” “One night doesn’t mean the rest of my life….So, let go because I’m afraid to try.”  Pryor expresses discomfort with new experiences. They may end in heartbreak. “Out of Reach,” they struggle with anxiety and not measuring up to what someone expects. “I’ve got pictures to prove I was there/ But you don’t care.” Sometimes trying your hardest isn’t enough.

The album wraps up with the somber “I’ll Catch You,” a song about support.  Pryor sings, “Don’t worry/ I’ll catch you./ You’re still all that matters to me.”  After everything that has happened, responsibility and loyalty overtakes negative feelings.

Something to Write Home About expresses a range of emotions.  It is a story of growing up. It is a story of a community. Sometimes, people do not live up to expectations.  Other times it is our own expectations that get the worst of us. Overall, the band found that perfect balance between everyday emotional themes and how to express those in an accessible way.

No other Get Up Kids album reached this level of emotional clarity.  At least it served as a point of inspiration for future “second-wave” and “third-wave” emo bands and the kids who wrote, listened, and sang along in order to feel secure in a confusing and frantic world.   15 years later, it is still a classic.

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