Skip to main content

LISTEN: "Mr Chainsaw" by Alkaline Trio

"Found out recently that you are leaving -
'For good I hope', I softly tell my ceiling.
It's better now to be alive;
Sleeping is my 9 to 5;
I'm having nightmares all the time...
Of running out of words that rhyme."

"See also

Byronic hero
Fear of death

- Wikipedia

Emo had its day. The word seems to have disappeared - usage peaking in, what, 2006? This is partly because it has been enthusiastically assimilated into pop. (This is the fate of hypersuccessful memes - to become ordinary. It's one of two standards in yoof visual style, and a go-to in chart pop too.)

What little ideological content there was in it - commodified Gothic Romanticism, and also what a charitable cultural theorist might one day see as a kind of genderqueering - is gone and not missed, since it took its chauvinism, hypocritical conformity and soft nihilism with it. Some funny relics of the age: whenever my brother - echt punk! - was caught listening to Alkaline Trio, he would insist that they played "melodic hardcore". In them days in our house, even "pop-punk" was an insult.

Rock and its subset punk were youth musics. Emo, a subset of punk, trumped both of them on this score, being as it was the soundtrack to that portion of puberty in which happiness itself is rebelled against. A pretence to nihilism, sold in 3 minute packets - the first successful commodification of nihilism in history? (O course harsh music and slow films had been using nihilism for ages - but never catching quite this level of youth demand.) Morbid, violent drama for timid, repressed kids. It sold because it enabled petty catharsis - most of us know how profoundly comforting self-dramatisation and the embrace of misery can be.

But even now, when I think music's job is to ward off and castigate selfpity, I love this particular set of maudlin coke-addled Satanists. How easy our affections are, if you just catch us in a weak moment! (Or a weak five years.)


Alkaline Trio had several things to keep them ahead of the emo drudge queue:

  • Two distinctive singers: one soulful brat, Skiba and one baritone whiner, Andriano. Dan Andriano generally lands the more typically emo vocal themes - the bread-winning "beg that sky for lightning bolts" refrain.

  • An ear for a hook, lifted from the Misfits obviously, but also from 80s synth.

  • Some sense of their own ridiculousness (wit).

  • The marriage of melodrama and banality - "Fine time to fake a seizure, to feel your mouth on mine - you're saving me - I'D LOVE TO RUB YOUR BACK".

  • Drums are sometimes interesting in a nonpunk way.

  • Mostly had the sense to not slow down.

  • Selfconsciously primitive!

They don't always conjure up my mid-teens. But mostly - the uninspired inarticulacy, the afternoons on awful EA Games with Irn Bru and a pie, the directionless anger, and directionless lust. This is of course what it is supposed to conjure, or, in this song's case, exorcise.


"Mr Chainsaw" is a prime cut of the goofy and affirmative 'Trio. The only critical note I can offer is that the "you" is the singer himself. And that I like it a lot.



The horror film cliches and naff self-importance of emo encroached on their fourth album; the fifth is full of lethargy, empty piano and synth frill; and the sixth and seventh are more than ignorable. Alkaline Trio have reached the logical end of their self-homogenization - and may as well be Green Day wearing darker clothes. Sic transit vigor.


There aren't many covers - they're not that kind of band because we, their fans, were much too passive by nature for that.