[5 June 2008]
It is easy to forget how thoroughly peculiar Jimmy Eat World seemed when they hit rock radio in 2001. This was, after all, months before the Strokes-Stripes-Hives brigade snagged hype and airplay. It was still the dark ages when Limp Bizkit was a hit machine, and bands like Staind and Incubus were hailed as paragons of enlightened sensitivity. Four collegiate-looking refugees from Mesa, Arizona, recently dropped from Capitol Records after two non-starters, seemed unlikely to alter the landscape, not with whoa-oh-oh choruses, songs about angels and being yourself, and liberal use of phasers.
But Jimmy Eat World did exactly that. If there was ever a moment when wussiness constituted bravery, they seized it. Like the scrawniest guy in sixth grade nonchalantly telling the school bully to fuck off, they daringly went against the prevailing tide, and opened floodgates in the process, floodgates that arguably cost Fred Durst his career and inarguably gave many under-tanned, under-muscled dudes (Gerard Way, Pete Wentz) theirs. They were boldly uncool. Instead of hailing Metallica and the Chili Peppers, these guys were hat-tipping Madness and Mellencamp. Instead of wallowing in negativity, their music was positive, romantic, optimistic, sometimes gleeful. Even the darker songs were unthreatening and unencumbered by self-pity.
A month after Bleed American’s July 2001 release, Rolling Stone ran a three-and-a-half star lead review that basically trumpeted emo’s mainstream arrival. But six years and six million emo bands later, it’s amazing how un-emo the album sounds: screaming is absent altogether, women are loved rather than vilified, and adenoidal whining is kept at a minimum. Though a landmark for an oversaturated genre, Bleed American itself still sounds fresh and inimitable—against all odds, it has aged like fine wine, or the best pop music. The two hit singles, “The Middle” and “Sweetness”, are pure, passionate, pop bliss: hook-happy sugar rushes that inspire smiles and sing-alongs, not sobbing jags or paths of aimless destruction. “A Praise Chorus” and “The Authority Song” referentially, reverentially celebrate music itself. And “Hear You Me” still sounds like the next legendary pop ballad, almost on par with “Hallelujah” and “Without You”. In other words, why aren’t American Idol contestants routinely butchering it? Jimmy Eat World is also capable of rocking out: the title track’s urgent guitar licks beg to be juxtaposed over car chase footage.
This was a fun, intense album thoroughly different from those that received mass exposure at the time; an album that, at the height of Disney pop vs. mook rock turf wars, postulated pop and rock were not diametrically opposed, but could intermingle and converge for something transcendent. Hell, by the Fall, even independent record stores were spinning an alt-rock radio hit, which hadn’t really happened since the mid-‘90s.
But while Bleed American is an excellent album, the Deluxe Edition is significantly less so. Beyond the restored album title, switched to Jimmy Eat World in response to post-9/11 paranoia, there’s little insight or revelation here. The album outtakes (“The Most Beautiful Things”, “No Sensitivity”) are the kind of formulaic tracks you’d expect from myriad Jimmy Eat World wannabes. All eleven songs from the album appear at least once on the bonus disc, either in a live or demo version—most good, none essential. The two additional versions of “My Sundown” are pretty much identical. Alternate takes emphasize the strength of the songwriting, but that quality is even clearer on the album itself.
There are also a few covers included: a way too smarmy take on Prodigy’s “Firestarter”, a more credible interpretation of Wham!‘s “Last Christmas”, and a Radio 1 performance of Guided by Voices’ “Game of Pricks”. This last one is a highlight, mainly because Jimmy Eat World’s studio-ready professionalism is exactly what Robert Pollard’s songs need and deserve. indie purists be damned. “Pricks” is every bit as good a Jimmy Eat World song as it is a GBV song. Most of this bonus material had been available before, however, either through EPs, imports, or iTunes. About all there is to lure completists is a spiffy package and “Your House 2007”, a superfluous revision of Bleed’s most rhythmically complex track.
Jimmy Eat World has released two albums since Bleed American: 2004’s darker, politically charged Futures, and 2007’s Butch Vig-produced Chase This Light. Both had their moments (“Work” and “Kill” on Futures, “Let It Happen” and “Always Be” on Light) and stood head over heels above second-rate competitors, but neither filled a void and nabbed a zeitgeist quite like Bleed. With historical hindsight now available, Bleed American is an album worth rediscovering. But if you bought it six years ago and it’s been gathering dust since, there’s no need to repurchase it with this package. And if you’ve never owned it, the upgrade is hardly worth an extra ten bucks.