The 25 greatest emo albums ever
Look, we know you disagree with every entry and where they are, and how dare we not include [insert your way more obscure choice here], but seriously, you guys voted for this so we’re absolving ourselves of all blame. So here, for your annoyance, delight, amusement and entertainment are the 25 greatest emo albums of all time, as voted by the Kerrang! readers…
25. Jawbreaker – Dear You (1995)
Dear You essentially killed Jawbreaker for more than two decades. Having been ensconced in Gilman Street’s radical punk scene, the San Francisco band were vilified by fans for both signing to a major label and making an album with high production values. What fools those naysayers were – Jet Black, Accident Prone, Basilica and Sluttering (May 4th) are some of the best songs the trio ever wrote, all shot through with a depressive, existential and poetic despair few emo bands have ever matched.
24. Mineral – The Power Of Failing (1997)
‘I wouldn’t mind if you took me in my sleep tonight / I wouldn’t even put up a fight / I wouldn’t care if you took it all away today / I’m sure I wouldn’t even miss the pain.’ The moving lyrics of closing track Parking Lot demonstrate how Austin’s Mineral mastered confessional emo on their debut album. One of the most poetic and intense albums of the 1990s, The Power Of Failing is a songwriting triumph.
23. Texas Is The Reason – Do You Know Who You Are? (1996)
Do You Know Who You Are? is the only record that Texas Is The Reason ever released. It’s also the only one they ever needed to release. The band’s post-hardcore influences flow throughout, but they manage to temper the vicious, angular edge of the music with a sense of unfettered vulnerability, too. It makes songs like Johnny On The Spot and Back And To The Left all the more powerful, and very much worthy of the legacy they created.
22. Cap’n Jazz – Shmap’n Shmazz (1995)
Shmap’n Shmazz isn’t actually the name of Cap’n Jazz’s first and only full-length. It’s actually Burritos, Inspiration Point, Fork Balloon Sports, Cards In The Spokes, Automatic Biographies, Kites, Kung Fu, Trophies, Banana Peels We’ve Slipped On And Egg Shells We’ve Tippy Toed Over. That might be one of the most ridiculous titles in the history of music – let alone emo – but the importance of its music is undeniable. Formed by brothers Mike and Tim Kinsella, who would go on to be in American Football and Joan Of Arc respectively, Cap’n Jazz served as a blueprint for a lot of what would come later. It’s musically and emotionally messy and unfiltered, but absolutely essential as well. Just don’t let that title put you off.
21. Mayday Parade – A Lesson In Romantics (2007)
The release of A Lesson In Romantics didn’t exactly go to plan for Mayday Parade, with guitarist/co-vocalist Jason Lancaster quitting the Tallahassee band a few months before this debut LP dropped. That wasn’t an ideal situation, seeing as half of the vocals on the record were his. Despite this, the album was a big success, and to this day, piano-based power ballad Miserable At Best remains a cornerstone of any emo playlist worth its salty tears.
20. Funeral For A Friend – Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation (2003)
The same year they scooped the Kerrang! Award for Best British Newcomer, Funeral For A Friend released their excellent debut album. It became an instant classic, with the likes of Juneau and Rookie Of The Year demonstrating the band’s ability to blend intense post-hardcore with melodic emo. It positioned the Welsh band as the saviours of British rock, and while their career never quite matched up to that promise, Casually Dressed… is an incredibly important album.
19. Rites Of Spring – Rites Of Spring (1985)
Though the definition of what emo actually is remains contentious, there’s no denying that it began right here. Rites Of Spring were arguably, along with Ian MacKaye’s Embrace, one of the very first bands to infuse hardcore with emotional lyrical content, giving birth to emotional hardcore, from where the term ‘emo’ comes. This record is obviously a million miles away from what the genre would eventually become, but without it, many of the bands on here wouldn’t exist.
18. Far – Water & Solutions (1998)
Baulk as they no doubt would at the term (as everybody did), Far exemplified how emo could be sensitive and heavy at the same time. On the band’s superlative fourth album, they captured lightning in a bottle, finding a place of comfort and proud vulnerability in direct opposition to the nu-metal hordes starting to populate the mainstream. It’s probably why huge success would never be theirs, but this is music that found the people who needed it and who cherished it dearly, finding a totem of anti-toxicity in vocalist Jonah Matranga – a man possessed of a voice rarefied in its range, power and nuance.
17. The Promise Ring – Nothing Feels Good (1997)
Is there a more quintessentially emo album title than this? Probably not. And its scrappy, blustery songs are just as bruised and broken as that title suggests – flurries of raw feeling that search for meaning in a world that possibly doesn’t have any. The Promise Ring evolved quite drastically after this second record, but it’s the purity and desperate yearning of songs like Is This Thing On? and the title-track that make this album still stand out as a staple of the genre more than two decades later.
16. Finch – What It Is To Burn (2002)
Perennial reformers and breaker-uppers – they’ve called it quits and got back together three times since 2006 – post-hardcore heroes Finch might not be capable of sticking at it for very long, but debut album What It Is To Burn did prove they were the best in the game when it came to combining emotional hardcore and pop-punk. Characterised by big choruses and bigger screams, the raw feeling coursing through this debut LP is undeniable.
15. Thursday – Full Collapse (2001)
Bridging the divide between emo and post-hardcore, Thursday’s second album was a collision of frayed feelings, existential angst and despair at the state of the world. It made for a phenomenal combination that didn’t just reveal the fragile state of frontman Geoff Rickly’s psyche, but fully cracked it open in a torrent of frenzied guitars and blisteringly raw songs. Understanding In A Car Crash and Paris In Flames brim with a savage beauty that cuts deep into your heart and soul.
14. Dashboard Confessional – The Places You Have Come To Fear The Most (2001)
Silly as it now seems, in elitist circles, calling Chris Carrabba’s largely solo acoustic project Dashboard Confessional an emo act was once considered sacrilege. Before Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance turned a generation of music fans onto a new kind of emo, Dashboard’s, erm, confessional, heart-on-sleeve songs did it first. His earnest campfire sing-alongs were almost revolutionary in their simplistic approach to the way in which he laid his soul bare – but, more importantly, the raw vulnerability of his lyrics also offered sanctuary to those who clutched them close to their broken hearts.
13. Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American (2001)
This is, without a doubt, Jimmy Eat World’s most commercial record. That’s no bad thing. Released in July 2001, it was eponymously retitled after 9/11, and contains, of course, The Middle, Sweetness and Salt Sweat Sugar (aka Bleed American) – three songs which proved emo could be both poppy and full of integrity. This LP turned the band into a mainstream success eight years after they formed, which was a much overdue and well-deserved reward.
12. The Get Up Kids – Something To Write Home About (1999)
Something To Write Home About still remains The Get Up Kids’ best-loved album. A formidable open wound of a record, it blends quiet-loud dynamics, earnest lyrics and incredibly catchy, sing-along choruses. Holiday, Action & Action and I’m A Loner Dottie, A Rebel are energetic bursts of emotional angst, while the more contemplative Valentine and I’ll Catch You offer up fragile moments for introspection.
11. Paramore – Riot! (2007)
This was the moment when Paramore truly arrived. Debut full-length All We Know Is Falling had garnered a small following in the pop-punk scene, but powered by smash hit lead single Misery Business, Riot! took things to a whole other level. Vocalist Hayley Williams has since expressed regret about the earnest nature of some of the album’s lyrics, but as a youthful burst of emotive angst, Riot! more than stands up over a decade after its release, and paved the way for Paramore’s global success.
10. Sunny Day Real Estate – Diary (1994)
Just one month after Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain took his own life, another band of sensitive sorts from Seattle, Sunny Day Real Estate, released their epoch-defining debut record, Diary. If Kurt and co introduced a newfound appreciation within the mainstream that boys had feelings too, Sub Pop’s latest hopefuls made them look like boorish Neanderthals. These 11 tracks experienced nothing like that kind of mass exposure, but they made cult stars of their creators regardless, particularly as the internet came into its own a few years later, and what was once a well-kept secret became a worldwide sleeper hit.
9. Taking Back Sunday – Tell All Your Friends (2002)
‘Why can’t I feel anything for anyone other than you?’ It’s an iconic refrain – from Cute Without The ‘E’ (Cut From The Team) – that’s shouted out at full volume by crowds at emo nights across the world on a regular basis. There’s much more to this debut record than just that one song, however, and the other nine tracks reverberate with the same kind of unflinching passion. Full of those teenage feelings that never quite die, the likes of You Know How I Do, Bike Scene, Ghost Man On Third, Timberwolves At New Jersey and You’re So Last Summer are powerful evocations of heartbreak that hit just as hard two decades later. This was, of course, where it all began for Taking Back Sunday, and while both their sound and their style have evolved over the past two decades, the significance of this record on the scene simply can’t be overlooked – and nor should it be.
8. The Used – In Love And Death (2004)
A record shrouded in tragedy, the creation of In Love And Death was a tumultuous period for The Used, particularly frontman Bert McCracken, who was coming to terms with the death of his ex-girlfriend and their unborn baby. In-fighting amongst the band and tensions with producer John Feldmann didn’t help, but The Used rallied, penning an eclectic collection of songs that remain a pinnacle of emo to this day.
7. Weezer – Pinkerton (1996)
It bombed on release, but Pinkerton is now considered a career highlight for Weezer. The band’s darkest LP, and one which speaks of Rivers Cuomo’s struggles with identity and relationships, it was forged in typically bonkers Weezer fashion, the quartet scrapping a sci-fi rock opera called Songs From The Black Hole before Pinkerton was conceived. Filled with an abrasive angst, this was the band at their most emo, and it was glorious. Their quirky debut, 1994’s self-titled ‘Blue’ album, established Weezer as geek-rock pioneers. This album saw them cross into more forlorn, earnest territory, but with their sense of humour intact.
6. My Chemical Romance – Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge (2004)
Described by the band as “the story of a man, a woman and the corpses of a thousand evil men”, My Chem’s second full-length was a watershed moment for both its creators and the emo scene at large. Hitting the studio with acclaimed producer Howard Benson, Gerard Way and co streamlined their scrappy emo-punk sound to produce iconic anthems like Helena and I’m Not Okay (I Promise) that inspired a whole generation of kids and, alongside Fall Out Boy, brought this new take on emo into the mainstream.
5. American Football – American Football (1999)
When it comes to what’s generally known as Midwest emo – the more gentle, lilting side of the genre that’s defined by intricate, delicate guitar lines – this is probably the most iconic record. Opener Never Meant is the one song that everyone knows, but the whole thing is a mesmerising, hypnotic experience that draws you deep into its melancholy, end-of-summer universe. After this release, the band broke up for nearly 15 years, but this album kept on soothing and breaking hearts, and Never Meant would feature on mixtapes for romantic young hopefuls all around the world.
4. Panic! At The Disco – A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out (2005)
Panic! At The Disco’s clean-cut mainstream success in 2019 is a far cry from where things started for the band. Back in 2005, Brendon Urie and his then-bandmates were just a bunch of emo kids with a penchant for the dramatic. However, these were teenagers with big ambitions, something Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz instantly spotted, making Panic! an early signing to his fledgling Decaydance label.
Things quickly escalated upon the release of A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out, and despite original bassist Brent Wilson’s dismissal from the band a few months later threatening to rock the boat, Panic! At The Disco rallied around their unique take on emo. Mixing baroque pop and electronica with classical instruments and more traditional rock fare, their debut album helped them stand out at a time when emo was quickly becoming oversaturated with cynical soundalikes who were looking to cash in on the genre’s incredible success.
A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out will largely be remembered for its standout single I Write Sins Not Tragedies – one of the defining tracks of the mid-noughties emo movement – but the unique charm of songs like the cheekily-titled Lying Is The Most Fun A Girl Can Have Without Taking Her Clothes Off and But It’s Better If You Do also played a large role in the success of this album.
What’s more, its construction was an early blueprint for where Brendon Urie would ultimately take the band in the years that followed. Stylish, sultry and packed with swagger, Panic!’s early tunes were raw, but teeming with potential. Five albums, several members and a whole lot of falsetto later – not to mention a role in Broadway musical Kinky Boots – Brendon has turned Panic! At The Disco into a mainstream-bothering juggernaut. Despite that, they remain a band synonymous with the emo genre, and one of the main reasons the scene captured so many hearts when it did.
3. Jimmy Eat World – Clarity (1999)
There are few lines that capture existential dread and human loneliness like the choral refrain of Blister, the 11th song on Jimmy Eat World’s third album. ‘And how long would it take me / To walk across the United States all alone?‘ It’s not just the lyrics, but also the way that Tom Linton’s voice pretty much breaks each time as he delivers the line. There’s no affectation, just an outpouring of truth and raw, honest emotion across a swathe of brusque, jittery guitars. It’s the only song he sings lead on – the rest is all Jim Adkins – but it’s a significant one. Elsewhere, Lucky Denver Mint offers a glimpse of the poppy sensibilities that the band would engineer so well on their next album, Bleed American, two years later. As great as that album is, Clarity – their second major label release – is really the pinnacle of the band’s catalogue.
There is, of course, plenty of emotional outpouring on its 13 songs, but the music – at times blissful, beautiful and resigned, at times defiant and belligerent – keeps it from being self-indulgent or overblown, even when asking grand, exaggerated questions like that posed in Blister. More than anything, though, these songs are given the exact amount of room they need to truly bloom and burst, whether that’s the two minutes and 40 seconds of Your New Aesthetic or the epic 16-plus minutes of Goodbye Sky Harbor, which closes the album in a slow-burning fire of despondency and resignation, and a never-ending riff.
2. Fall Out Boy – From Under The Cork Tree (2005)
There were several things that weren’t exactly normal about the making of From Under The Cork Tree. The album’s producer, Neal Avron, didn’t actually want to work with Fall Out Boy at first, telling Kerrang! that the initial demos he heard “were very rough-sounding” and that he “didn’t think the songs were great”. Hardly the best of starts. Then there’s the notorious tension between Patrick Stump and Pete Wentz. The two had fallen out over the chorus of Sugar, We’re Goin Down, and things came to a head when Patrick punched a camera Pete was filming him with in the studio. Pete even found himself recording some vocals in a toilet at one point; not wanting his bandmates to watch him track the spoken word outro of Get Busy Living Or Get Busy Dying, he ended up crouched down in the studio bathroom with a microphone in order to finish the song.
And yet, despite all this bizarre behaviour, Fall Out Boy produced a killer breakthrough album that catapulted them into the eyes and ears of the mainstream. Propelled by the success of Sugar, We’re Goin Down and fellow single Dance, Dance – both of which hit the Top 10 in the UK charts – Patrick, Pete, Joe Trohman and Andy Hurley fast became one of the biggest bands in rock.
Millions of album sales on from its release, From Under The Cork Tree remains essential listening for anyone looking to acquaint themselves with the world of emo – and even genre purists can’t deny them that.
1. My Chemical Romance – The Black Parade (2006)
After the success of Three Cheers For Sweet Revenge, the rock world was expecting big things from My Chemical Romance on their third LP. No one, though, could’ve predicted what was to come next. Taking their theatrical personas to the extreme and their songwriting to stratospheric levels, the New Jersey natives retired to the Paramour mansion in LA and penned the definitive emo album. Said record, The Black Parade, defined a generation, and changed the landscape of rock forever.
From the grandiosity of The End right until the defiant cry of closing number Famous Last Words, The Black Parade serves as a reminder to the listener that it’s okay to feel emotional, and it’s fine to feel sad, lost or broken. Above all, it served as an almighty rallying cry for the downtrodden, and a symbol of how it’s okay to not be okay.
Gerard Way’s lyrics chart the memories of a character called ‘The Patient’ as he stands on the edge of mortality, and his experiences are a vehicle via which the band comment on love, loss, life and everything in between. Whether it’s the anxieties that come with growing older (Teenagers) or the pain – both physical and emotional – that illness inflicts (Cancer), The Black Parade explores the trauma of the human experience with unflinching honesty.
Then, there’s the music. Equal parts Queen rock opera, Ziggy Stardust glam and Misfits horror punk, The Black Parade spans all facets of the emo sound. With piano ballads, anthemic singles, punk rock rippers and broken-hearted love songs, The Black Parade has a bit of everything, and there’s even a guest appearance from Academy Award winner Liza Minnelli to top it off. For most, though, this record will be remembered for its iconic lead single, Welcome To The Black Parade. One of the biggest, best and most important rock songs of the 21st century, it’s a rallying cry for all who feel the world’s dealt them a cruel hand.
Bold, brash and brimming with life, The Black Parade is the ultimate emo album, and a record the likes of which we may never hear again.
Read this next:
With Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and Panic! At The Disco now commanding stadium-sized crowds across the world, and Paramore’s Hayley Williams embarking on her own solo journey, we look back on the year that changed their careers and lives forever
Stay up-to-date with everything going on at Download Pilot this weekend: We’ve got reviews, galleries, videos, setlists and more!