It Holds Up: Jimmy Eat World – ‘Clarity’

Posted: by The Editor

On February 23, 1999 Jimmy Eat World released Clarity, their third full length album and a landmark album of the 90s. Like many things that achieve a cult-like following, the album was criminally overlooked when it was first issued.

Clarity is an album that is name-dropped by many contemporary “indie rock” and “emo” acts as a source of inspiration was commercially unsuccessful in a music climate dominated by teen pop. They were even dropped from Capitol Records records the next year.  As we all know, they would recuperate by releasing Bleed American in 2001 via Dreamworks Records and performing in the opening slot on the ‘Pop Disaster Tour’ that featured Blink 182 and Green Day. Jimmy Eat World then became a household name.

Prior to 1999, the breakout of “punk revival” made its mark on music in 1994 with Green Day’s Dookie, closely followed by Blink 182’s Dude Ranch in 1997. Many of the bands during this era harnessed the 1970s punk scene sound, as well as that of the first wave of “emo” music that came out of Washington D.C. (Rites of Spring, Embrace), along with the explosion of 90s “alternative”. The Promise Ring’s second album, Nothing Feels Good (1997) and Clarity helped usher in the second wave of “emo” in the late 90s. Jimmy Eat World was also crucial to the third wave of this movement in the 2000s.

Ultimately, they were one of the few bands from their generation that were able to blend upbeat “pop-punk” with “emo” and resonate with a mainstream audience while still keeping their street cred. Many (myself included) did not know the power of Clarity until after Jimmy Eat World had achieved greater success. A whole slew of people consider it their masterpiece.

Regardless of whether this is your favorite album from them, the infectious balladry power-chord punk rock is undeniable. Mix in the elements of chamber pop and a slight dose of electronics and you have a remarkably unique listen upon your ears. The musicianship is exquisite.

Clarity served as a pivotal album for the band. It marks the first time Jim Adkins is featured on lead vocals instead of Tom Linton. Adkins had done primarily just backing vocals prior and he would continue as lead vocalist going forward. They really came into their own here. They perfect the sound we all think of when Jimmy Eat World is mentioned, planting the seeds that were missing from their previous releases especially on “Your New Aesthetic.”

It would be the second time working with former Drive Like Jehu drummer Mark Trombino who produced Dude Ranch. Trombino then worked on several Jimmy Eat World albums as well as a number of the Drive Thru Records albums of the early 2000s (Finch, The Starting Line, and Midtown). A significant amount of these groups took inspiration from Clarity.

A highly revered pillar in the “indie rock” and “emo” landscape, it has built quite a legacy. Jonathan Corley, the bassist of Manchester Orchestra stated, “It changed the way I look at music.” In Something Corporate’s acclaimed “Konstantine,” Andrew McMahon states, “It’s to Jimmy Eat World and those nights in my car when the ‘first star you see may not be a star.’ I’m not your star. Isn’t that what you said you thought the song meant?” It directly references lyrics from “For Me This is Heaven.”

Clarity is not only a great album but an important one. It served as a standard to Jimmy Eat World’s contemporaries, and still stands as a time-tested bridge between waves of punk, emo, and indie.

Tyler Holland | @InTyler_WeTrust

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