The sophomore album by The Promise Ring, called Nothing Feels Good, is largely credited for its influence in starting a wave of movement in the emo genre. The record has now turned 25 years old, so I thought it would be a great idea to revisit just what made this album so damn special. The album was produced by J. Robbins, and the cover art features a shot of Trimper’s Rides in the heart of the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. The album title also inspired author Andy Greenwald to use it for his great, comprehensive guide of emo music called Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, and Emo that I thoroughly enjoyed reading when it was released. What made The Promise Ring so endearing was their mix of power pop chords paired with a heart on their sleeves approach to their lyrics that led to several quotable moments within their songs. Nothing Feels Good is an endearing collection of 12 slick emo anthems that deservedly earned their time in the spotlight today.
The set launches into “Is This Thing On?” that comes exploding out of the gate with a wall of sound before vocalist Davey von Bohlen captures the imagination of his listener by singing cautiously, “Delaware are you aware of air supply and television / Delaware are you still there, is this thing on, am I coming down / Delaware are you aware of air supply and television / Delaware are you aware of air supply.” The repetitious refrain is paired with backing vocals from the band that is rounded out by drummer Dan Didier, guitarist Jason Gnewikow, and bassist Scott Beschta (who would later be fired by his bandmates once the album released).
”Perfect Lines” follows with some more endearing lyrical lines, like the closing notes of the pondering, “You never wrote in perfect lines / And I never wrote you perfect lines, you perfect lines / So why aren’t all roads perfect lines? / Why aren’t all roads perfect lines?” What the band does best is to captivate their audience’s imagination with some great, melodic breakdowns that reverberate off the speakers long after the song wraps up. Other early standouts like the single “Why Did Ever We Meet?” with its accompanying video that featured Jade Tree co-founder Darren Walters, Ken Dario, Chris Duncan and Mike Schoenbeck, showcased a band trying to figure out their sound. While the lyrics at times are odd choices, the instrumentation and delivery of the material has inspired so many noteworthy bands in the genre, with many still pointing back to Nothing Feels Good as the one album that made them want to be a musician. The chorus features some melodic breakdowns and invites the audience to sing along with each of their “ba ba ba’s” and “do, do, do’s” in their frenetic live performances.
”Make Me a Chevy” features a memorable refrain of “Where in the world would I go / How do I explain your body to the rest of my day / I’m not as good as the interstates are / I just can’t take you that far,” while the music around it is simply shiny, vibrant and captivating in the best ways possible. “How Nothing Feels” is a complementary instrumental song that prepares the listener for the back half, or “Program 2” as listed on the cover art.
The back side features the title track, leads off with “A Broken Tenor” that repeats the same lyrical lines of “Make Me a Chevy” with singing, “Your hair knows the top of your T-shirt / The top of your T-shirt / And your back was up in arms about it / But I’m not as good as the interstates are / Not as good as the interstates are.” Other songs like “Raspberry Rush” and the closer of “Forget Me” showcased a band starting to find just the right formula to carry them to superstardom in the genre.
Nothing Feels Good would earn tons of critical praise for its uniqueness and slick power pop anthems that would pave the way for a new generation of bands. Other bands coming up at the same time, like Jimmy Eat World, would tour with The Promise Ring where arguably both bands would benefit from each other’s live performances to try and make themselves that much more memorable. But for now, give this beautiful record another spin and listen with wide-eyed wonder about how this little band became so perfectly influential.