Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
Released July 24th, 2021 on DreamWorks Records
Produced by Mark Trombino and Jimmy Eat World
Peaked at #31 U.S., #62 U.K.
“Bleed American” (#18 U.S. Alt, #60 U.K.)
“A Praise Chorus” (#16 U.S. Alt)
“The Middle” (#5 U.S., #26 U.K.)
“Sweetness” (#75 U.S., #38 U.K.)
The story of Bleed American is the story of tenacity. Their two classic second-wave emo records, Static Prevails and Clarity, were released on Capitol Records. Capitol, likely trying to test which way the alt-winds were blowing in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide, signed the band in the mid-90s off of some decent regional press. Despite the fact that by the end of the decade the band was getting some airplay with Clarity’s “Lucky Denver Mint” Capitol decided that the future lay elsewhere and stopped supporting them, a move that included declining to release the follow-up to Clarity. The move probably made sense on paper; sales of alt albums were dropping across the board and while the whole thing was going to be upended in the fall of 2001 it’s not like Capitol were prophets. Still, it’s always funny to see a major label prognosticate that a band isn’t going anywhere right before they start flooding the charts. The band went on tour anyway, and sold their albums out of the merch booth like any good indie band would. The momentum stayed, and they recorded Bleed American themselves on their own dime. DreamWorks, which had just switched distributors to Interscope and was a weird, hungry major-affiliated label, heard the album and wanted the band. This only proves that Geffen hired decent A&R back it the day.
Bleed American is the peak of Jimmy Eat World’s powers, although it wouldn’t be the highest-charting album they ever released (2007’s Chase This Light went to #5). It spawned four singles that found success in the U.S. Alt market, with two – the ubiquitous “The Middle” and the call-and-response “Sweetness” – finding a place in the overall charts. This despite the album bearing a title that would become rather unfortunate within two months, after 9/11 made Americans squeamish to songs called “Bleed American.” Given that this was the same bizarre era that led the U.S. Congress to rename the French fries in their cafeteria “Freedom Fries”, it’s probably not surprising that Bleed American was renamed Jimmy Eat World during the frenzied era between 9/11 and Obama’s election. I, for one, have never called it that. I find American self-obsession to be absolutely obnoxious. It’s easy enough, having lived through the Trump era, to forget how utterly stupid much of the Bush era could be. The consolidation of radio into one company didn’t really help.
I think that Bleed American succeeded because it stripped the band of a lot of its emo elements. Sure, “A Praise Chorus” has some of those elements, and the title track has that spiky, nervous attack that characterizes the second wave, but a lot of this album was more pop-oriented than the band’s previous albums. “The Middle”, which will live on long after the band is dust, has much more in common with what Blink-182 was doing at the time than with, say, Mineral or Texas Is The Reason (or even the Get-Up Kids). Still, it had enough of those sad-boy moments to satisfy the older fans combined with enough exuberant adolescent pop-punk moments to make getting into the charts a matter of when and not if. It would never be the punk purists favourite album – professional contrarian Ryan Schreiber tore it apart at the time, back when people actually read P4K – but it would be the crossover success the band needed to rise up out of the viper pit of punk purism. Looking back twenty years it’s easy enough to see the line that runs between the success of Bleed American and the rise of the third wave of emo – My Chemical Romance, Fall Out Boy, The Used, etc. In a sense this record made the waters warm enough for a legion of kids to go diving; the middle-00s onward would feature rock ‘n’ roll that was a weird amalgam of 70s glam and 90s emo, with a dash of hardcore thrown in for good measure. Part of that amalgam, the poppier part, likely has Bleed American embedded into its DNA.