To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever correctly assigned blame for inspiring the squeaky-clean brand of second wave emo/pop-punk plied by bands like Fall Out Boy and Jimmy Eat World. I'll start with FOB's fellow Chicagoans The Smoking Popes. In the early '90s, these lovesick suburbanites carried the proto-emo torch, thanks to the plaintive, nice-guy melodies of singer Josh Caterer (sort of a Morrissey for Hot Topic shoppers, but with little of that Mancunian's knack for tragicomic wordplay). Caterer's stylishly anachronistic crooning, over a conventional palette of hard-charging, Green Day-style backbeats and three-chord guitar blasts, set the Popes apart from the band's punk peers and helped set the stage for the explosion of American mall punk and the affectation-heavy singers of 21st-century indie pop. Around the time his acolytes were blowing up on the radio, Caterer found God and broke up the band. Of course, not even God can stop rock 'n' roll, so the Popes eventually reunited half a decade ago and have been delivering G-rated paeans to girls, girls, and girls ever since. On the Popes' new concept record, This Is Only a Test, Caterer writes about the pains and pleasures of being in high school — as only a 38-year-old family man/born again rocker can.
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