Jimmy Eat World

Capitol Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


There is a long and illustrious list of rock acts who didn't really get their musical act together until their third album, including a pair of my favorites - Bruce Springsteen and Yes. However, Clarity is not Arizona punk-pop acolytes Jimmy Eat World's third album. Rather, it is that troublesome beast, the sophomore album, rife with adolescent growing pains, both scarred and beautiful.

The band's eventual third, self-titled album - the one featuring the monster hit single "The Middle" - makes Clarity an intriguing historical artifact. And while this album shows truckloads of potential, it fails a basic test: it doesn't connect with the listener (at least, this one).

Music, like most art forms, is about sharing a common experience. You have to recognize, if not yourself, at least some emotion or situation that's familiar in the work in order for it to resonate with you. The ironically-named Clarity's fatal flaw is this: it is stubbornly, even proudly obscure. The lyrics might be described as stilted post-modern pseudo-poetry, full of arty non sequiturs that occasionally sound cool, but whose impenetrability keep the listener firmly outside the songwriter's creative box.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The music - a large helping of Green Day, with a little Paul McCartney sprinkled over the top for seasoning -- is where this album gets more intriguing. Especially strong guitar lines and vocal harmonies can be found on heavy tracks like "Lucky Denver Mint," "Crush" and "Blister," while quieter numbers like the opening "Table For Glasses" and the very pretty "On A Sunday" shimmer with bells and vibes. The band shows a gift for setting a mood; it's just unclear what a listener is ultimately supposed to get out of a track like "12.23.95" (entire lyric: "Didn't mean to leave you hanging on. All alone. Merry Christmas baby."). For some reason the old Van Halen punchline comes to mind: "model citizen - zero discipline."

The piece de resistance of misfires on this disc, though, has to be the sad little monster that is "Goodnight Sky Harbor." You can sense the band's pent-up frustration melting through as they cut a sixteen-minute closing opus that's just about guaranteed to mystify and/or piss off anyone who listens. It starts off fine enough with a four-minute song that does a good job of summoning up a non-specific sense of melancholy. But then the lyric ends and it just keeps going… and going… and going. The next eight minutes consist entirely of the same soft, simple chord sequence repeated as if by a metronome. I know this stuff has now been graced with its own genre name (trance), but come on, guys. It'd take three joints in a dark college dorm room for this kind of bullshit to be remotely interesting. In the closing minutes they try a few things, adding background vocals, vibes and bells to the mix, but it's way too late and I'm way too annoyed by then. You want to play "Wouldn't it be cool?" at 4 a.m. in the studio, do it on your own time.

Those stumbles aside, you can hear the potential all over Clarity in the band's strong ear for melody and the juxtaposition of gentle, earnest ballads with furious bursts of punk energy. (The critics call this "emo," but the phrase that comes to mind for me is "bipolar pop.") They just seem to have been so pissed off at their label at the time that whatever the suits told them, they did the opposite. A satisfying strategy in the moment, but pretty self-defeating if your true goal is to connect with an audience. Luckily for us, on the band's third album (initially called Bleed American, self-titled after 9/11) they put all the pieces together and produced one of the most melodic and accessible punk-pop discs of the past few years.

Clarity is an intriguing muddle of an album that's worth picking up. Just don't buy it anticipating more than what it is - a sometimes-beautiful mess.

Rating: B-

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© 2002 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Capitol Records, and is used for informational purposes only.