Oh, Clarity. Where have you gone? Why can’t you come back? Why have you left me alone?
I speak of course of Jimmy Eat World’s second full-length, the apex of its ever-lengthening career, and a paragon of emo when emo’s flame was still burning bright. Released in 1999, it put the likes of the Promise Ring, Modest Mouse, Mineral, Sunny Day Real Estate, and all those, sad, sad, pensive bands to shame while said bands were creating the best music of their careers. It was a mainstay in my Discman, filtered through a cassette adapter in my old Mazda truck that possessed only one operational speaker when I was 17 years old. Attached to, and enthralled by, its apparent simplicity yet simultaneous complexity, each song graced my ears over and over again, with lyrics confessional, thoughtful, and challenging, and music shimmering and beautiful even in its most aggressive moments. To this day, I still cherish it. Static Prevails (1996) was a strong debut, but Clarity was such a monumental leap forward that I knew, I just knew, the band would evolve into a musical force to make naysayers and hipsters eat their arrogant little words.
And then there was Bleed American (inexplicably going self-titled after the attacks of September 11th, 2001). After one listen, I was in full-on contempt mode. A pop record? A fucking POP record? Not just a pop record, but one with treacly ballads like “Hear You Me” and “My Sundown”, so ready for dishonest touching moments on WB programs and the last dance at the prom. And let’s not forget embarrassing misfires like “Get It Faster” which set eyeballs rolling with its pseudo-metal interludes; and added to that, the confusing phenomenon of “Cautioners” and “A Praise Chorus”, which are literally, chord-for-chord, the exact same song, albeit with slightly different arrangements, tempos, and instrumentation.
Yet, it all grew on me, and as Jimmy Eat World continued to decline, Bleed American became their second most adventurous album. And I do love pop. I just didn’t get what I wanted.