To say Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American is the soundtrack of my youth is an understatement. I’ve spun that disc – which turns 10-years-old this week – more than any other. Growing up Mormon in Gilbert, Arizona, it’s to be expected. Down there, Jimmy Eat World is bigger than the Beatles, at least in the crowds I ran with. Everyone loves them and everyone is familiar with each of the 11 songs on their breakthrough record like they were all smash hit singles.
I blasted “Sweetness” before every track cross country and track race I ran. I replayed the guitar riff in “Get It Faster” every time I listened to it and plucked it out on the piano regularly. I played “Hear You Me” the day a friend died. To this day, my brother and I play Jimmy Eat World at the end of the 11-hour car ride from Provo, Utah to Gilbert.
The album’s biggest hit, “The Middle,” was never among my favorite tracks from the album, mostly due to its radio saturation, but as I’ve grown up, I’ve realized that all I need to know, I learned from that song. Lessons like “don’t write yourself off yet,” “it’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on” and “you’re doing better on your own, so don’t buy in” are the type of pep talk lyrics we all occasionally need when things are rough. And in the “It Gets Better” era where pop stars are constantly reminding us we were “born this way,” Jimmy Eat World’s music video for the song featuring a scantily clad house party where two dressed teens find each other and leave seems to portray the message of not trying to fit in better than Gaga’s most sincere pleas.
Jimmy Eat World formed in 1993 in Mesa, Arizona. Jim Adkins, Tom Linton, Rick Burch and Zach Lind, were four high school buddies who paid their dues playing shows around the Valley and built a following. They were eventually signed to Capitol Records where they put out two albums, the rough Static Prevails and the sprawling, gorgeous and criminally under appreciated Clarity. Unfortunately, J.E.W. failed to live up to Capitol’s expectations and was dropped from the label.
Rather than give up, however, Jim Adkins and company began touring on their own to record and put out an album. The result was the most perfect pop record the ’00s. The airtight Bleed America proved the executives at Capitol Records wrong when it set off a bidding war between labels. Dreamworks won out and release the album which was retitled Jimmy Eat World after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and went on to sell more than a million copies.
Bleed American launched a million wannabes, but none were nearly as good. What separated Bleed American from all other emo pop-rock records of the early decade was its earnestness. On paper, some of the lyrics are cheesy, but Jim Adkins pulled them off. Adkins has always had a way of making songs that give the listener the “Finally, somebody knows what I’m going through!” feeling every time they listen to them. I felt that feeling as a 14-year-old when the album was brand new and I feel as a 24-year-old. Something tells me I’ll feel the same way a decade from now.
“Are you listening?” Adkins asked on “Sweetness.”
Yes Jim, yes we are.
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