In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing.
Jimmy Eat World has a new album out this week, Damage—it’s so-so—but this year marks the 20th anniversary of the recording of the Arizona band’s long out-of-print debut. The band has all but disowned it, and not just because the typeface on the cover looks like Comic Sans. The songs don’t sound anything like Jimmy Eat World.
Usually when a band hits it big, its old, out-of-print albums quickly find new life. That was the case for Jimmy Eat World with 1996’s Static Prevails and 1999’s Clarity, both commercial disappointments for Capitol Records and seemingly doomed to stay out of print forever. They found new life when Jimmy Eat World went platinum after 2001’s Bleed American, but 1994’s Jimmy Eat World has stayed buried, with the band not even acknowledging it on its discography. As my colleague and fellow old-school Jimmy Eat World fan, Jason Heller, noted, “There’s a good reason for it. It’s not terrible, but it doesn’t represent what the band would become.”
For one, Jimmy Eat World was emulating bands like NOFX, Face To Face, and J Church, as Jason noted. Second, guitarist Tom Linton sang lead on 10 of the 11 songs—by Clarity, he only sang lead on one, as guitarist Jim Adkins took over. Third, bassist Rick Burch hadn’t yet joined. The band that released Jimmy Eat World and the one that released Damage is the same in name only.
Well, mostly. The ninth song, “Reason 346,” hinted at the future. While most of Jimmy Eat World is forgettable pop-punk (though I still love the opener, “Chachi”), “Reason 346” found the band stretching out. True, it starts off as fairly typical pop-punk, but around the 2:30 mark the song pulls back, with just drummer Zach Lind and then-bassist Mitch Porter playing quietly. After a few seconds, Adkins’ voice joins, sounding like he’s about 10 feet away from the mic. One of the guitars returns, with clean single notes. An acoustic playing chords joins after that. Then, almost at the 3:30 mark exactly, everything kicks in for a cathartic instrumental coda. At that moment, it’s easy to see Static Prevails in the distance (not that Jimmy Eat World’s especially happy with that album, either).
Jimmy Eat World would probably say the band found its footing on Clarity, and no one would argue that. But I still love those old songs, too. When I picked up a Japanese import version of the band’s B-sides and singles compilation back in 2001, I was delighted to see “Reason 346” on it. I like to think Jimmy Eat World secretly appreciates that old song too. (I’m probably wrong.)