2008 is proving to be a quizzical summit for Jimmy Eat World. The global masticators from Mesa are touring in support of the still-new Chase This Light (released last October), an album designed to recapture the directness and lightness of "The Middle" after the collective "huh" with which many critics and some transient fans greeted Futures, a solid album that built on their earlier success by adding the sonic beauty of Clarity to a pop-rock format. This spring, Jimmy Eat World became the latest, and possibly the youngest, recipients of a Universal double-disc deluxe edition with the expanded Bleed American, their 2001 commercial breakthrough now restored to its pre-9/11 title.
Perhaps it's Interscope/Geffen that are the real Bleed American nostalgists here, pining wistfully for the glory days when it routinely sold 1.5 million copies of albums in the U.S. before fumbling digital music distribution for good. Though it seems a bit premature to be looking back on the halcyon days of "The Middle" inside of the same decade, a re-examination of Jimmy's coming-of-age album bundled with a bonus disc of demos, B-sides, outtakes and the splendid vinyl-only "Splash, Turn, Twist" makes a compelling case that these guys should not have been called emo after "Lucky Denver Mint" put them on the radio. Yeah, they were young and emotional and played the requisite E-diminished sad chord from time to time, but these guys were making more frequent use of power chords to frame their anthemic choruses by the time this self-financed million-seller was released.
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In hindsight, Bleed American sounds today as though Jimmy Eat World was firmly drawing a line in the sand with the e-crowd by writing radio-friendly pop like "The Authority Song," a number that not only acknowledges the existence of John Mellencamp as a jukebox hero, but gives him a quarter for a job well done. It was in 2000 that frontman Jim Adkins told The Omaha Weekly that he was at a party where he put on Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" as a joke and decided it was no joke. Like the Boss, when Adkins writes angry, it comes out anthemic, and the concerns of Adkins' characters in his songs seem more working- class than anyone like Panic at the Disco would ever give voice to. After that, it's not that much of a stretch to hear Bleed America's underrated moody follow-up, Futures, as a lyrical cousin to Bruce's underrated Darkness on the Edge of Town, where people are trying to find redemption and some way to live with the choices they made somewhere between dusk and 4 a.m. If we're still talking Bruce analogies, that leaves Chase This Light, an enjoyable if less-significant album, somewhere between Lucky Town and Magic.