From the opening notes of Saves The Day’s now-legendary emo album, Through Being Cool, Chris Conley confidently sings, “This isn’t the way we planned / I wasn’t supposed to forget your taste,” and it’s almost as if Conley and his band knew they might be on to something extraordinary here. The irony behind an album about leaving the cool kids to their cliques, while sitting a few out much like the cover art depicts, is humorous now because Saves the Day became emo legends on this record. Those same kids who wouldn’t give Conley and crew the time of day back in high school, are probably the ones now asking them for autographs after a show. This album was recently overlooked by Kerrang! magazine on the 25 greatest emo albums ever, much to my chagrin.
Looking back at the numerous bands influenced by this band and this album, in particular, one can not merely brush this record off as just another emo album. Instead with heart-on-my-sleeve lyrics about their hometown on songs such as “You Vandal,” where Conley sings, “I woke up to my cold sheets and the smell of New Jersey / When do I get to wake up to you?” there was no stopping this band’s ascent into greatness.
Through Being Cool picks up steam on the third track, and arguably the best song on the record, called “Shoulder to the Wheel.” This song is filled with incredible guitars from David Soloway and Ted Alexander, and some of the best melodic hooks that Conley has ever written. From the retrospective lyrics of, “We drive, Dave steps / On the gas / The world that’s / Flying by is slick and smooth / Big waves of light / The radio’s playing Queen…and we’re rocking out,” everything was put into place for Saves the Day to begin making a name for themselves in the crowded New Jersey emo/punk scene that they helped create.
Other songs like “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” with lyrics such as, “Let me take this awkward saw / And run it against your thighs / Cut some flesh away / I’ll carry this piece of you with me,” began the transition of Conley becoming known as a melodic singer with some very warped lyrics. He’s not talking about really taking a saw to his girlfriend’s leg, but instead using this fictional approach to describe his complex emotions. This type of lyrical approach would set the tone for what many consider their masterpiece, Stay What You Are. Had Saves the Day not gained the necessary traction on Through Being Cool, who knows if we would have ever heard that record altogether. Scary thought.
The record also features some great pop-punk moments such as “Third Engine,” which again features some fantastic guitars and an underrated bass line courtesy of Eben D’Amico. The emo kid in Conley breaks through hardcore in the bridge when he admits, “I just want you to know / That every pool of water reminds me of you / Is that all right? / I hope you think it’s cool / ‘Cause sometimes a train can’t go as fast as I want it to / Everything seemed a little easier when we weren’t one hundred miles apart / The person across from me, sitting in her train seat, reminded me of you.” These lyrics, in particular, stuck with my 16-year old self at this time, since I was too awkward to even speak to girls that I admired in high school. Conley, who was 19 years old by the time the record was released, got the emotions down pat of what it’s like to be an awkward teen, and he used it as ammunition to fuel the great lyrics found here.
I also appreciated the simplistic beauty of just singing about being on the road as Conley shouts on the chorus of “The Vast Spoils of America,”: “California, where the mountains climb so tall / And waves crash blue around you / When everyone’s passed out in the van / And I’m the one driving through the land.” The experiences of being a touring musician even before they were old enough to legally drink alcohol allowed the band to experiment with writing about their experiences of being on the road all the time, while the average teenager was getting to enjoy their life with minimal effort.
The entire album crescendos around the title track where Conley again fantasizes about sticking up for himself and his band as he sings on the closing notes, “And then I’ll spin right back around / And say, “Nick, why are you such a prick? / Why can’t you just marvel in the hopes that make up this reality? / Your world is what you made it / And I don’t want a part of it.” The idea of confronting a bully is terrifying enough, but Conley and his bandmates take it all in stride as they did their part in summarizing what it’s like to be a teen looking from the outside in.
Overall, Through Being Cool, should have received plenty more recognition and accolades after its release since it influenced so many key bands in our scene to this day. Conley even once considered the record to be the “most important album they ever recorded.” With that being said, I’ll leave you with my favorite Saves the Day lyrics I still live by to this day: “I choose my company by the beating of their hearts, not the swelling of their heads.”