Jimmy Eat World – Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of “Bleed American” | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Jimmy Eat World – Reflecting on the 20th Anniversary of “Bleed American”

The Album First Came Out on July 24, 2001

Dec 14, 2021
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In that bleary dream-state between second and third wave “emo,” the cultural aesthetic of darkened bedrooms and scribbled notebooks began to give way to abundances of sensualized goth-lite storefronts and cultivated Myspace personas. In the face of this grand empire’s course, however, four Average Joe’s from Mesa, AZ managed to lend their collective hand to a brief, if not memorable genre revolution.

Released on July 24, 2001, Jimmy Eat World’s third studio album, Bleed American, set the standard for many mainstream pop punk releases to come, arriving in a flurry of anthemic riffs and radio-ready power pop vocals, and boasting the seemingly immortal Top 40 hit “The Middle.” As expected, listeners noted the group’s drastic departure from that of their ’90s output, while critical reception was favorable and the group’s fanbase began noticeably expanding.

The style explored on Bleed American, also found on albums released by the band’s peers, is an entirely reactive sound. The often sugary sweet alt rock informality of Bleed American is merely a response to the sentiment prevalent in the previous decade’s twilight—the collision of ’90s suburban privilege and looming millennial paranoia—no more evident than on the album’s abrasive title track. “Bleed American” finds frontman Jim Adkins grimly declaring, “I’m not alone ‘cause the T.V.’s on yeah/I’m not crazy ‘cause I take the right pills every day” over snarling guitars and pounding percussion. It is worth noting that the titles of both song and album were changed in the wake of 9/11, the former to “Salt Sweat Sugar,” and the latter to the inevitable eponymous moniker.

The subsequent “A Praise Chorus” continues the upbeat punky guitar rock approach, although the listener finds the band eschewing the previous track’s “issues”-focused lyrics and exploring their own influences. Making the most of his inspiration, Adkins accepts his reality, resolving, “Things are never gonna be quite what you want/Even at twenty-five you’ve gotta start sometime.” True to its title, this personable anthem features the group reciting lyrics to their favorite songs, moving from “Crimson and Clover” to “Kickstart My Heart” and a couple of Promise Ring numbers thrown in for good measure, offering the listener a chance to hear the band out, and trace their already apparent roots back to the heart.

The band’s signature song and official mainstream crossover hit “The Middle,” despite the dagger of fleeting youth culture and the wooden stake of passing time, cannot be killed, and remains sonically irresistible. “Hey, don’t write yourself off yet,” Adkins sings. “It’s only in your head, you feel left out/Or looked down on.” This bit of encouragement from one of modern rock’s premiere emotive songwriters feels comforting even 20 years later, the warm singalong chorus rendering it a quintessential feelgood summer single.

Easy ballad “Your House” channels twenty-something romantic angst to its fullest, relying heavily upon acoustic strumming to accentuate its achy chorus, Adkins insisting, “If you love me at all/Please don’t tell me now,” while “Sweetness” serves as the band’s most realized effort in the power pop genre with which they are often associated. The album’s crowning achievement in emotive balladry, however, must be the eulogic “Hear You Me.” Here, more than anywhere else on Bleed American, the group’s lyrics cut to the bone as Adkins bids the departed farewell, singing, “And if you were with me tonight/I’d sing for you just one more time/A song for a heart so big/God wouldn’t let it live.”

Also of note are “If You Don’t, Don’t” and the penultimate “Authority Song,” which round out the band’s cluster of straightforward punk pop declarations. The latter shines brightly, especially as Adkins sings, “I’ve got no secret purpose/I don’t seem obvious do I?”

Leaving the heart heavy, “My Sundown” closes the album on a note of somehow beguiling resignation, Adkins hammering home what could ultimately become the album’s resolution—“No one cares.”

Unlike many releases of the year, Bleed American sounds very “of a place and time,” its sentimental edge having aged relatively well, “The Middle” still one of the most recognizable tunes of its generation, a common radio staple to this day. Although pale in comparison to its 2004 successor Futures, Bleed American is a landmark among the larger influences on a generation of popular culture. For this alone, the album is worth exploring as an early ’00s time capsule, as well as an honest rock and roll record.


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