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One of the reasons for rock criticism's resistance to the punk subgenre known as "emo" is that its most popular acts are often as stylistically anonymous as post-grunge corporate rock grinders. But according to Spin reporter Andy Greenwald, there are significant distinctions. Greenwald's Nothing Feels Good: Punk Rock, Teenagers, And Emo offers a selective history of emo, noting its origins in the D.C. hardcore-punk scene of the mid-'80s, continuing through the underground eruption of Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate, and surveying the current scene, defined by the rise (and in some cases the fall) of Jimmy Eat World, The Get Up Kids, The Promise Ring, and Thursday. Nothing Feels Good provides a valuable primer, albeit an incomplete one: Greenwald barely mentions Bright Eyes and Cursive, or the more artful emo-associated work of Death Cab For Cutie and The Dismemberment Plan. He also stumbles by failing to include a core emo discography, and he summons no convincing numbers to back his claims that the albums he cites are "among the most fiercely beloved rock 'n' roll records of the last decade." But while Nothing Feels Good is flawed as a primer, it's extraordinarily handy as a report on what the scene is all about, as well as why it's thrived phenomenally over the past few years. Greenwald ties emo to the same impulse that leads people to post their diaries on the Internet, and the same impulse that leads people to read them. It has to do with the inherent melodrama of adolescence, and the misperception that every fleeting emotion and every flash-in-the-pan musician is somehow new and unique. (Dashboard Confessional followers, raised on processed pop-punk and boy bands, act as though singer Chris Carrabba invented the acoustic guitar.) As emo artists spill out their personal pain, teenagers come to believe they're on the same level as their heroes, and that interchangeability is part of the appeal. What makes Nothing Feels Good a remarkable piece of pop reportage is the way Greenwald empathizes with the intensity of emo fans–and with the way that intensity burns out emo artists, who get exhausted by the expectations. Whether bearing firsthand witness to Carrabba's frayed nerves on Dashboard Confessional's first arena tour or catching an old Jawbreaker fan admitting that a mere conversation with the band's frontman "is like getting an unreleased Jawbreaker album," Greenwald gets at the pressure that drives rock stars to stop pretending to be regular people.

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