Album Review: Jimmy Eat World – Clarity (#MWE)

Like the majority of music fans, I am more familiar with Bleed American, Jimmy Eat World’s breakthrough album from 2001. Their previous effort Clarity, however, is considered very influential, and many claim it was commercially overlooked upon its release in 1999. Having finally heard the effort all the way through, I can attest to the praise: Clarity is a sharp, consistent album with a heavy replay factor.

Before we go any further, I must express my deep-seated bias for energetic pop-punk over the softer emocore. I have dabbled with The Hotelier and Modern Baseball, but I’m a Blue Album guy more than a Pinkerton guy. It’s just in my blood, y’all! But despite my penchant for fast-paced rhythms and chugging power chords, I can appreciate the impact of Clarity, a foundational album that lays the groundwork for an entire subgenre so effectively its imitators have all but rendered its most ingenious elements a cliche.

The album opens with the mellow, introspective “Table For Glasses,” followed by the now-classic single “Lucky Denver Mint.” These two openers set the tone for the rest of Clarity, and Jim Adkins’ and Tom Linton’s vocal harmonies are signature to the unmistakable sound of Jimmy Eat World.

The variety of instrumentation is startling, but not overbearing; this is not a typical guitar-and-drums listen by any stretch. Zach Lind’s electronic percussion programming, particularly on the aforementioned “Mint,” is akin to something a maturing Blink 182 would lift several years later. Lind’s bells and chimes layered throughout bolster the album’s pensive framework, a perfect setting for the existential, sometimes somber lyrics to shine through.

At times, we can hear what was to come: “Your New Aesthetic” features a chugging guitar intro reminiscent of the band’s future blockbuster hit “The Middle.” Unlike that Bleed American single, however, the song isn’t upbeat or optimistic, but rather insular and shoegaze-influenced. But Jimmy Eat World have always been able to tug at the heartstrings, as is clear on the Weezer-esque “Believe What You Want,” sporting screeching guitars and an anthemic chorus. Meanwhile, “A Sunday” is wistful and pensive with just a tinge of outward emotion and melancholy, a style Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional would adopt.

While the arrangements keep us guessing, the mood rarely changes. This hampers the project slightly, as filler starts to creep in near the middle. Thankfully, things pick up near the end with highlight “Just Watch the Fireworks,” featuring violins and other warm instrumentation. The album closes with a series of Clarity’s strongest tracks: fan favorite “For Me This Is Heaven,” the welcome change of pace “Blister,” the riff-heavy title track, and the epic 16-minute “Goodbye Sky Harbor.”

The heart-on-sleeve influence of Clarity cannot be ignored, but the band refined their style and made a better album a couple of years later, one that arrived just in time for them to receive the accolades they deserved. Clarity is Bleed American’s introverted older brother. The latter may have been more outgoing and more popular, but it owes a lot to what came before. In fact, so does all of modern emo.

Score: 7/10

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