By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Those more enamored of the band's introspective side will respond favorably to a quartet of mid-to-slower-tempo album cuts. Several of these--specifically "Hear You Me" and "My Sundown"--were originally penned for Adkins' orch-pop side project Go Big Casino. Suitably hushed and more restrained than JEW's previous forays into similar territory, they also mark a development in Adkins' ability to create complex emotional dilemmas, narratives that go beyond the wistful melancholy of schoolboy crushes and teen heartbreak.
The first, "Your House," works well enough in this regard, though Adkins' singing comes off as slightly twee. Still, Trombino's subtle production touches--stealthlike organ, emotion punctuating percussion--save the song from veering into the realm of puppy-dog pap. The band is more effective at translating the genuinely sanguine sentiment of "Hear You Me." The song--part remorse poem and part eulogy for a dead love affair--is a remarkable bit of craftsmanship. Adkins' burnished vocals navigate the tune, as a bedrock of acoustic guitar dances with a lilting countermelody. Elsewhere, tinkling piano fills and an organ aping the settling of a flügelhorn fades beautifully into the lachrymose din of Rachel Haden's angelic croon.
As a writer, Adkins' motives don't seem all that far removed from Elvis Costello's famous line about "revenge and guilt." JEW covers the latter admirably with "Hear" before tackling the former on the album's standout, "Get It Faster." Opening with a minute's worth of ominous shudders and thuds, the cut eventually settles into a ticking time-bomb groove, which quickly explodes into a chorus of such Promethean depth and grandeur that it would send even the most dedicated power chord progeny running for cover. Arguably, it's the highlight of the JEW canon--as well as the Bleed track whose construction seems to most bear the fingerprints of guitarist Tom Linton. As "Get It Faster" amply proves, Linton remains the band's ace card. His ability to suffuse the material with an army of plangent guitars, swooning lead breaks, supple sonic touches and a general effort serving as point man in Adkins' aural assaults is invaluable.
Even when Adkins' material comes up short, as on the unwieldy "Cautioners" (previously released in demo form on last year's split EP with Jedibiah), he still offers up moments of inspiration. Like the most interesting wordsmiths, Adkins isn't afraid to double back on himself regularly, taking a stand or expressing an opinion in one line, only to question or contradict its wisdom in the very next ("Making my peace/Making it with distance/Maybe that's a big mistake"). It's an element that helps JEW's wordplay avoid the paint-by-numbers lyrical approach that many of its peers seem to wallow in. In contrast to fellow contemporaries--the Get Up Kids and Modest Mouse, for instance, who've already shown us the bottom of their tiny bag of tricks--Jimmy Eat World still manages to surprise on a regular basis.
For example: Bleed American closes on a decidedly down note with the elegiac "My Sundown." "Said my goodbyes, this is my sundown/I'm going to be so much more than this," croons Adkins over a pulsating lullaby of minor-chord sorrow. While it may seem premature, even cheeky, for a 25-year-old to attempt something like "My Sundown"--though no more odd than a twentysomething John Lennon warbling "In My Life"--Adkins delivers his tale with such a weighty sense of resignation it's hard not to believe he's about to drift off into the abyss on a mournful cloud of acoustica.
It's obvious that JEW's new pop-oriented direction might alienate some but ultimately garner a larger audience than the band has ever enjoyed. Those among the indier-than-thou set, musicians, scenesters, hipsters and the like, who're sure to dismiss Bleed American for not being sufficiently adventurous, dissonant or corrosive. But it's a ridiculous argument. It is--as author Nick Hornby once put it--like criticizing a circle for not having any edges. JEW has emerged from the indie-rock shadows with a redefined sense of self. It has smoothed the sharp angles and corners of its old noise in favor of something warmer, prettier and ultimately more satisfying. "I've got no secret purpose," offers Adkins defiantly at the end of "Authority Song," and, indeed, his mission seems clear.