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Dissected: Jimmy Eat World (with Jim Adkins)

on June 14, 2013, 12:00am
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Clarity (1999)


Tracks (Runtime): 13 (64:08)

Longest Track: At 16:13, “Goodbye Sky Harbor” isn’t just the longest song on this album, it’s the longest in their entire repertoire by a full 8:44.

Geometry of an album cover: 4th. Four equal squares, four primary colors.

JEWish-ness: For better or worse, this album stamped them with the “emo” label, and so yeah, you can find proof everywhere. The title track’s “Wait for something better/ Will I know when it can be us?/ Maybe that doesn’t mean us”; “Lucky Denver Mint” with “You’re not bigger than this, not better/ Why can’t you learn?”; or just the entirety of “A Sunday” or “Crush”.

Lots of small ideas: The lyrics on “Goodbye Sky Harbor” are inspired by John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany. Said Adkins, “Anthrax always had a Stephen King song. I thought why not try going with something I was reading.” There’s also a rumor that the song’s length is the exact time it takes to reach cruising altitude from liftoff when leaving Arizona Sky Harbor airport. The band says they just wanted to use up all the tape on the reel, but it’s a neat theory.

Tom Eats World, Too! “Blister”, which remains a live staple.

Wait, which refrain do I sing? “Blister” – “When the world caves in/ what you gonna do/ When the world caves in/ what you gonna do for me” vs. “Don’t try and stop me/ Because I’m falling fast into this pit of fire which surrounds us all/ In a blanket of fear that I’ve been wrapped in for years/ You can’t stop me.”

What is a “Table for Glasses”, anyway? Purportedly, it’s exactly what the lyrics say it is. In a track-by-track breakdown the band did for the Clarity X anniversary tour, Adkins explained that he saw a woman at a college art show wipe stairs with a white dress, walk to a candlelit table, and pick the dirt off the dress to place it in glasses. Yep. Adkins says the song is about how “there is no correct way to interpret art.”

The 13 minute, 10 second fade out of “Goodbye Sky Harbor”: is completely worth listening to all the way through. From the subtle drum shifts, to the big pay off around 13:45 that sounds like The Postal Service a mere two years before Tamborello and Gibbard even got together.

Oh hai, Mark! Trombino returns with a masterstroke.

Jimmy Says Words about Clarity’s initial reception (specifically a Pitchfork review likening the record to sonic warfare aimed at then-Yugoslavian president Slobodan Milosevic) and eventual climb to landmark status: “Oh man, he also did a review of Bleed American. I think those are some of my favorite reviews ever, actually.

What we saw on the ground was us touring around on our own, playing shows, and every time we’d come back to a city, the show would be a little bit bigger, or we’d get an opening slot for a bigger band. I think the metrics of what people use to gauge success—that was all completely in the background for us. What we saw, that’s what was happening for us. When “Lucky Denver Mint” got into a Drew Barrymore movie—Never Been Kissed—and the radio started playing it a little bit, we saw the label kind of kick it into gear, but we still thought it was funny. We didn’t take anything seriously. It wasn’t a world that we gave a crap about.”

Verdict: Like fine wine or good whiskey, the profile of this album only got better with time. Written by a bunch of ambitious twenty-somethings with their hearts on their sleeves, songs range from winding melodies of young romance (“Just Watch the Fireworks”) to hard cutting social commentary (“Your New Aesthetic”). It saw minimal success at the time, mainly coming from that Barrymore vehicle, but fans clung to its openness and scope, and eventually the critics caught on. In retrospect, the album is a classic, glorious in the risks it takes, the craft it was formed with, and yes, its through and through emotionalism.

-Ben Kaye

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