As Jimmy Eat World blew out the candles on 20 years of Bleed American on July 24th, we’ve taken a look back at one of the finest pop-punk albums of all time.
Ask any band, and they’ll likely tell you it’s hard to make any sort of commercial breakthrough at any point in your career. After all, it takes a lot of pieces falling into place to make that happen at the best of times, though the story of success that we often see involved a young band bounding out of the gate, only for hype and word-of-mouth to see them risen to the upper echelons of the music industry.
Often, this fame is short-lived, and by the time album number two comes around, the sophomore slump is in full effect and fans leave as quickly as they first came.
Often, the opposite is true, and some bands will manage to knock it out of the park with their second album, which sees them becoming icons of their chosen genre soon after they had dismissed the idea of this early success turning them into household names. Other times still, this fame is on its way, only to arrive when they least expect it.
Check out ‘The Middle’ by Jimmy Eat World:
That is the story of Jimmy Eat World, at least according to the mainstream music world. Having formed in 1993 in Mesa, Arizona, childhood friends Jim Adkins and Zach Lind joined musical forces with the likes of Tom Linton and Mitch Porter to crate the band that would soon be dubbed Jimmy Eat World (despite what they now think of the name). Moving quickly, the band released their self-titled debut in 1994, making a name for themselves in the local punk scene.
By 1996 though, the group’s sound had changed, with Static Prevails arriving in July and eventually becoming a truly influential part of emo’s second wave. Bolstered by this success, constant touring and widespread popularity from the underground scene resulted in the band unveiling their third album, Clarity.
Considered by some to one of the best albums of the year and/or decade, and one of the best emo albums of all time, Jimmy Eat World had achieved the sort of success that they had never particularly chases, but that always seemed destined to arrive at some point.
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Check out ‘Sweetness’ by Jimmy Eat World:
However, the band also found themselves at something of a crossroads. Leaving Capitol Records after Clarity, Jimmy Eat World decided to approach their next record as free agents, once again working with producer Mark Trombino to craft a record that would capture the sound and energy they were showcasing at this point.
The result was a record titled Bleed American (though swiftly retitled as Jimmy Eat World in the US due to the 9/11 attacks), and at first, critical reception was somewhat divided. While many had expected something akin to Clarity 2, Bleed American was at its core an almost perfect pop-punk record with a far more wide-reaching and accessible sound than what had been portrayed on their previous record.
Hardcore fans felt somewhat hard done by, while new fans flocked to the band in droves, predominantly due to the success of singles such as ‘The Middle’ and the title track, which arrived in the months following the album’s release. The tracks were sharp, well-produced, and seemingly less introspective than previous work from the group, causing something of a moderate rift in the band’s fanbase. Jimmy Eat World themselves though remained unfazed.
Check out ‘Bleed American’ by Jimmy Eat World:
Soon, Bleed American began to climb the charts, as well, giving the band what was effectively their first chart success anywhere (though Clarity had charted briefly in Germany earlier in 2001). The record peaked at #31 in the US, #54 in Australia, and even saw moderate success in the likes of Germany, New Zealand, and the UK. While dedicated fans might have been divided, critics weren’t, and the record would eventually go Platinum in both the US and Canada.
From a musical point of view though, Bleed American was almost perfect. While singles such as ‘Bleed American’ and ‘The Middle’ stole headlines, the likes of ‘Sweetness’ and ‘A Praise Chorus’ served as often-underrated hits of the era, with frontman Jim Adkins’ powerful voice belting out alluring melodies while a blissful din of pop-punk instrumentation crashed around.
Meanwhile, the group showcased a softer, more heartfelt side too, offering up a tribute to a pair of late fans with ‘Hear You Me’, or flirting with heartbreak on ‘Cautioners’ (which had previously appeared on a split EP with Australia’s own Jebediah the previous year). But it didn’t end there, unforgettable tracks such as ‘Your House’, ‘If You Don’t, Don’t’, and ‘Get It Faster’ showcased the group’s inimitable songwriting, while the album’s penultimate track – ‘The Authority Song’ – deserves to be remembered as one of the greatest songs of the 21st century.
Check out ‘The Authority Song’ by Jimmy Eat World:
20 years down the line though, does the album still hold up? From a commercial point of view, Bleed American is one of the group’s least successful albums in terms of chart success, namely due to it starting a reign of chart popularity which saw every subsequent album bar 2019’s Surviving hit the US top 20. Countless pop-punk artists find themselves citing the album as a major influence, and even critics themselves have labelled it as one of the greatest albums of all time, or even just one of the greatest pop-punk albums, too.
Of course, not every critic understood the record or its appeal. Famously, Pitchfork labelled 1999’s Clarity worthy of a 3.5/10 review upon its release, changing that to an 8.6 in a retrospective review just last month. When Bleed American found its way into the world in 2001, Pitchfork again slapped Jimmy Eat World with a dreaded 3.5. Who’s to say whether that will change in years to come, but until we find out, it’s about time we place it on the turntable once more, light 20 well-deserved candles in celebration, and toast one of the finest pop-punk albums to ever see the light of day.