Jimmy Eat World
The turn of the century was a rough one for Mesa, Ari., alt-rockers Jimmy Eat World. Capitol Records underwent new leadership and the band never fit their mold, leading to the two parties splitting mid-deal. The band decided to record their follow-up album without a label, raising funds by releasing their previously unreleased tracks on a compilation album and taking on day jobs.
Even as they recorded and released their follow-up album, Bleed American was a bumpy ride. Less than two months after the album’s release, the name was changed to a self-titled effort following the September 11 attacks and while their lead single, the titular track (which was re-named “Salt, Sweat, Sugar), peaked at No. 18 on Billboard’s alternative airplay chart, but failed to make it on the main chart. It wasn’t until November that Jimmy Eat World finally caught their big break – the release of their second single, “The Middle”, which peaked at No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became the band’s landmark track.
For the sake of clarity (and because subsequent releases have kept the album’s original name intact), we will refer to the album as Bleed American.
Bleed American kicks off with the titular track, an upbeat rock anthem where singer Jim Adkins wears his heart on his sleeve, opening up about the anxiety disorder he developed while touring in support of the band’s previous effort, Clarity. Adkins calmly delivers each line in the verse while the guitars pick up the tempo and the drums pound away as Adkins progresses to shouting the song’s chorus. The shining moment of the track, however, is the guitar solo, something the band does well throughout the album.
“A Praise Chorus” is a love letter to all of those who influenced Jimmy Eat World. During the bridge, Adkins references Madness, The Promise Ring, Bad Company, They Might Be Giants, Mötley Crüe and Tommy James and the Shondells (whose reference was sung in the background by none other than The Promise Ring frontman Davey von Bohlen. The track serves as a thank you to everyone who influenced the band and a call to the listener to enjoy yourself and music and not to take yourself so seriously.
While the initial theme of self-acceptance amidst the transition from adolescense to adulthood is well-known in “The Middle”, what many don’t realize is that the song is a personal statement of the band itself. When Adkins sings “Don’t write yourself off yet”, he’s telling the band that their departure from Capitol Records is a rough patch, but not the end of their ride, some thing that especially rang true as the band released their 10th full-length album last year. Although really more power pop, I have always identified this track as the song that brought emo music to mainstream and, in may ways, the track that introduced me into a lot of the songs I listen to now.
Jimmy Eat World unplugs the amps in “Your House”, an acoustic ballad that, in peak emo fashion, repeatedly states “You rip my heart right out”. Assisted by a wonderful drumline, “Your House” was never meant to be a radio hit for the band, but it’s the kind of track that shows that the band can abruptly slow down the tempo and still captivate the listener, aided by a hypnotic drumline.
The somber melodies don’t last long, however, as Jimmy Eat World immediately picks up the tempo with “Sweetness”, which features Adkins’ and Tom Linton’s finest guitar work. While the sugary title and energetic and booming guitars make the song appear to be upbeat, it’s actually a song about the heartache and eventual feeling of freedom following a breakup. While “The Middle” introduced me to Jimmy Eat World, “Sweetness” was the song that got me hooked on them.
“Sweetness” serves as the explosive piece sandwiched between the two softest songs on the album as they pick the acoustic guitars back up for “Hear You Me”, a soft ballad dedicated to Mykel, Carli and Trysta Allan, sisters who befriended Jimmy Eat World (among other bands), who tragically died in a car accident on a way back from a Weezer concert in 1997. Mykel and Carli ran the Weezer fan club (and Weezer even named a song after them). Adkins laments how the band will never have the chance to thank them for everything the sisters did for them, including giving them a place to crash when touring through Denver. This song was never meant to be a radio single, but it’s one of those tracks that you appreciate on a deeper level because it shows the impact fans truly have on a band.
“If You Don’t, Don’t” is one of those tracks that was never released as a single, but I think would have done well if it was. With a swirling intro and lyrics about longing for someone complemented by an angelic humming before the bridge, this song has all the elements of a radio-friendly hit, and that’s before we get to Adkins’ drunken confession at the end “And I’m sorry that I’m such a mess/I drank all my money could get and/Took everything you let me have/And then I never loved you back”.
After dazzling us with more pop-oriented alternative rock and a pair of acoustic-led tracks, Jimmy Eat World gets much more brooding and angry with “Get It Faster”. The track opens with an atmospheric synth sound before the bassline kicks in. Lyrically, this is far from the band’s best work. Is it a breakup song or a song about infidelity (or both)? But the big payoff from this song is the (again) the guitar solo bridge.
“Cautioners” proceeds the calmer, more atmospheric sound carried by a bassline reminiscent of a heartbeat as Adkins defiantly tells his ex-lover that he will not take her back. It’s a mid-tempo song that was never going to be a single but generated a ton of fanfare.
Perhaps the one song that wasn’t a single but should’ve been is “The Authority Song”, another track where they pay respects to several artists who influenced them, including John Mellancamp, Jesus and the Mary Chain and Velvet Underground. The track includes a bouncy intro that would’ve been the perfect tune for the jukebox they keep singing about in the song.
While Bleed American doesn’t necessarily tackle themes of Americana that you would expect, the closing track, “My Sundown” is the exception as Adkins sings about chasing the American dream, but when he shares this with others, he discovers nobody cares. Despite this, Adkins pushes forward and says “Good goodbye, good goodnight” to those who don’t care. It’s the kind of track that could have been on their previous album, Clairty with a softer tone and usage of the piano to lay the backbeat while Linton compliments it with the acoustic guitar with the whirling sound of the synthesizer weaving its way in and out of the track.
Following the underground success of Clairty, it would have been easy for Bleed American to be a letdown to their fans, but even as they shifted more to an alternative rock album rather than emo, they did it without abandoning their roots and produced an album where there truly is no bad track. While I don’t necessarily love the track layout, especially as they alternate between loud and soft tracks, I can appreciate how they broke up the album and while not every song could be a single, there aren’t exactly any filler tracks either. Jimmy Eat World spoke to a younger audience when it was released in 2001, but it has aged so well over the years because it was emotional without being angst-ridden or melodramatic.