American Beauty

Jimmy Eat World should have broken up two years ago. But they're just getting started.

You've heard the story so often, it may as well have happened to you. And maybe it did. Young band, barely out of high school, gets signed to a major-label recording contract. Releases a pair of solid albums--adventurous by major-label standards, good-to-great by anyone's--yet is ignored almost from the moment it set the pen down. Is given its walking papers after spending a few years as little more than a tax write-off with a pulse. Blah blah blah. The end.

Here's a story you may not have heard as much. Young band is actually happy to be released from its contract. Thrilled, even. Decides to fund a new album out of its own pocket, working construction jobs and the like in the meantime. New album is so good, the same people who ignored the band the first time around beg for another chance. One of the main villains from its former label ends up managing it. One-time villain gets the band a bigger, better contract with another major label. We're talking several albums, several million. New album sells more copies than the other two combined. Blah blah blah. The end? No. The beginning.

But, see, even though that's an interesting story, the kind of against-all-odds tale of perseverance that would make for a good band biopic (the pitch: It's like Rocky III meets Almost Famous, crossed with Airheads, with a Gen-Y slant, youknowwhatImean?), there's more to Jimmy Eat World than that. Of course there is. It doesn't really matter that the quartet--singer-guitarist Jim Adkins, bassist Rick Burch, drummer Zach Lind and guitarist Tom Linton--were signed then singed by Capitol Records, or how they fought their way back. It doesn't matter how they got to their new self-titled album for DreamWorks. All that matters is they got there.

The kids are all right: Jimmy Eat World found new life  where most bands usually find the end of their careers.
The kids are all right: Jimmy Eat World found new life where most bands usually find the end of their careers.

Because who cares about contracts and sales figures and all of that anyway? It's the kind of boardroom intrigue that makes for a good book (A&R by Bill Flanagan, available at a bookstore near you), but it doesn't make the songs on Jimmy Eat World any better or worse, unless, of course, they were actually about that sort of thing. (Thankfully, they're not.) Lyrically and musically, it's an album about focusing on what's important and forgetting what's not. As in: Relationships with people are more important than relationships with labels, and guitars, bass and drums have more to do with rock music than samplers and drum machines. Best example: "A Praise Chorus," where Adkins sings, "I'm on my feet/I'm on the floor/I'm good to go/All I need just to hear a song I know," and then the band provides him with just that. It's a song that makes you fall in love with rock and roll all over again.

There are plenty of other songs on Jimmy Eat World that do the same thing: "The Authority Song," cribbing its title and melody from John Mellencamp; "The Middle," a girl-it's-gonna-be-OK fight song that's strong enough for a man but made for a woman; "Sweetness," which finds a way to say what it wants to with music "when words lose their meaning"; "If You Don't, Don't," the kind of love-lost song that will end up on post-breakup mix tapes for the rest of the decade. There are plenty of glances to the past, but they're only there to make sure everyone is keeping up, that no one is hanging too far back. It's modern rock, but not the bastardization of the term that radio station programmers have been trotting out for the past decade. Meaning, this is what rock and roll should sound like in 2001, a logical progression, the next phrase that goes after the comma that was the millennium.

Since its release in July, some have said that Jimmy Eat World is a departure for the band, but that's only true if you haven't listened to their two previous discs for Capitol, 1996's Static Prevails and 1999's Clarity. Listened to in order, Static Prevails and Clarity act as signposts for what you hear on Jimmy Eat World.

"I think Clarity sounds just as different from Static Prevails as Bleed American does to Clarity," Lind says, on the phone from a Seattle hotel room. "I think it's just a matter of trying to keep ourselves entertained, and trying to avoid getting bored with what we do. I think that's the main reason why it changes up a little bit. It's not really forced. We don't really censor ourselves a whole lot. I mean, you have to at some point, but there's not very often where we think, 'We can't do that, because that doesn't sound like us.' We just go ahead and do it anyway, because we think, you know, it's a decent song."

The band may not censor itself often, but sometimes, the choice is taken out of their hands. Originally released as Bleed American, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, all future pressings of Jimmy Eat World's latest album will now only bear the band's name.

"For us, it wasn't really that big of a deal," Adkins says, a couple of weeks earlier, during the band's recent European tour. "I didn't think we were compromising anything artistically by just calling our record Jimmy Eat World." He lets out a small laugh. "It's kind of an unfortunate by-product of everything that now things that maybe seem critical are kind of being looked at differently, when I think the most American thing you can do is stand up and disagree and be OK to do that. The music's the same--that's the big deal. We're not going in and removing lyrics or anything, taking out guitar parts."

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