Feature: Promises, Promises – A Retrospective Look at ‘Nothing Feels Good’

To mark the recent re-issue of The Promise Ring’s second album ‘Nothing Feels Good’, Already Heard’s Rob Mair shares his memories and thoughts on the 1997 released LP.

“Where forget-me-nots and marigolds and other things that don’t get old, don’t get old,” sings The Promise Ring’s Davey von Bohlen on ‘Forget Me’.

Some 18 years after its initial release, ‘Nothing Feels Good’ has not got old. In fact, not only has The Promise Ring’s most decorated album stood the test of time but now, itself, feels timeless.

For me, ever since I first listened to it some 15 years ago, it has been an iconic album. It’s immediately distinctive and recognisable, yet the cover and packaging gives you no indication whatsoever of the joyous indie/pop/rock/emo contained within. It’s inviting and fun, slightly whimsical and wistful. It has the look of an album that has been crafted and sculpted lovingly, with great thought given as to the best way to present it. No wonder it was one of the biggest selling emo albums before emo ever hit the mainstream.

But the beauty of ‘Nothing Feels Good’ lies in its simplicity. It’s an important album and it’s clear from the outset that its influence runs deep, yet it has no pretentions of being thus. Would The Get Up Kids or Jimmy Eat World or Saves The Day have ever evolved without songs such as ‘Perfect Lines’ paving the way for them first? Even today, the excellent new Tellison album recalls similar moments of joy. ‘Nothing Feels Good’ is pretty much the blueprint for the sound which I would class as emo (sorry you Hawthorne Heights and My Chemical Romance fans), alongside the noodling Kinsella sounds of American Football and the intense yet delicate Mineral.

The legacy of The Promise Ring – and ‘Nothing Feels Good’ in particular – can still be felt too.

Last year, Mike Kinsella – a long-time friend of von Bohlen, going back to their time in Cap‘n Jazz – included a cover of ‘Forget Me’ on his ‘Other People’s Songs’ record. ‘Forget Me’ is probably my favourite Promise Ring song, yet finds itself buried at track 12 on ‘Nothing Feels Good’. However, it is one of the finest closing song to an album you will ever here. The fine folk over at Washed Up Emo described it as the song they’d play if someone told them that they’d never heard of The Promise Ring. I’d go further; if you’re knowledge of emo doesn’t extend further back than 2002, stick it on and prepare to be blown away.

Then there’s the blog ‘Is This Thing On?’, run by the hugely knowledgeable and passionate Alex Miles (formerly guitarist of Babies Three). The blog takes its name from The Promise Ring song of the same name and continues to be one of the finest sources of emo-related content on the net. ‘Is This Thing On?’ kicks off ‘Nothing Feels Good’ with one of the most inspired rhymes ever. “Delaware are you aware” sings von Bohlen. I challenge you to not have it stuck in your head after hearing it. And, of course, there’s Andy Greenwald’s seminal book ‘Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers and Emo’, which owes its title to the very album we’re discussing.

On a personal level, ‘Nothing Feels Good’ served as my introduction to The Promise Ring way, way back in 2000, during the summer break between my first and second year at university. Like many of the albums of the era, it retains a special place for me, so I’m consequently delighted it’s finally getting a long overdue vinyl reissue.

I tried to put my finger on what made it so special when I was listening back over it this week, and it’s really hard to pinpoint just how or why it works so well, but these are the things that stand out: Davey von Bohlen’s lyrics are sublime throughout, returning to similar themes and callbacks, repetitious themes and phrases. Dan Didier’s understated drumming holds it all together, never flashy or showy, but unobtrusive and utilitarian. Yet it’s the bass of Scott Beschta that steals the show. Frequently straining at the leash to go for a walk, it has a personality of its own.

However, ‘Nothing Feels Good’ is not my favourite Promise Ring record. In a declaration sure to be met with frowns and scolding from The Emo Council, that accolade belongs to the follow-up, ‘Very Emergency’. I have no idea why, I think I just found ‘Very Emergency’ a bit more immediate and engaging. However, what that basically means is The Promise Ring have more than one album which warrants your time and attention and, if you’re feeling flush, your money. You can (and should) buy the reissues here.

‘Nothing Feels Good’ (re-issue) by The Promise Ring is available now through Jade Tree Records.

The Promise Ring links: Twitter

Words by Rob Mair. Photo Credit: Tim Owen.

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