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‘Bleed American’: How Jimmy Eat World Cut Through To The Mainstream

Released in advance of 9/11, Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Bleed American’ album found itself taking on unintended dimensions, but has survived as an alt.rock classic.

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Jimmy Eat World Bleed American album cover

Many bands suffer what is widely recognised as “difficult third album” syndrome. It’s a term that usually relates to the inability to complete a new record, but in the case of Arizona alt.rockers Jimmy Eat World, the problems occurred after they’d issued their third record, Bleed American. Not that the band had any control over events…

The first fruits of the band’s new deal with DreamWorks, Bleed American was released on 24 July 2001, with the standard CD edition augmented by a special vinyl pressing courtesy of Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal label. The initial signs were encouraging, with Drowned In Sound’s critique (“11 of the finest songs you’ll hear this year, or any other year”) setting the tone for a raft of positive reviews.

Listen to Bleed American right now.

However, neither the band nor their proud label could have predicted what would happen next. With the world recoiling in horror after the terrorist acts of 11 September 2001, the (actually apolitical) album title, Bleed American, suddenly took on a much darker dimension. Understandably concerned about the possible repercussions, DreamWorks and Jimmy Eat World collectively agreed to rename the album Jimmy Eat World, while the album’s title track was switched to ‘Salt Sweet Sugar’.

“We worked way too hard to have it sidelined”

“It was a pretty fast decision,” frontman Jim Adkins recalled in an interview with California’s Mercury News in 2011. “We all felt we had worked way too hard on it to have it sidelined by not having it given the opportunity to be objectively listened to.”

Adkins wasn’t kidding. Bleed American – which reverted to its original title when afforded a deluxe reissue in 2008 – was the result of considerable toil, most of which Jimmy Eat World shouldered without any label backing.

At this stage, the band had already established a commendable track record. Having first formed in 1993, the Arizona quartet found kindred spirits among US rock’s fertile underground scene. They initially spread the gospel via a series of self-financed singles, before signing with the ever-discerning Capitol Records, for whom they released two critically-acclaimed albums, 1997’s Static Prevails and 1999’s Clarity.

Band and label parted ways after the latter album, but Adkins and co continued touring, releasing the stop-gap Singles collection while they worked up a batch of highly promising material for their next studio album. Though they were without label backing at this stage, the creative control fired the band up, and with further guidance from long-term producer Mark Trombino, they believed they were about to deliver their mainstream breakthough.

“People still find something in what we do”

Jimmy Eat World’s new label, DreamWorks, held similar convictions, and even the briefest of listens to Bleed American suggests they were right all along. Significantly more accessible than the cool, yet left field-inclined Clarity, the album offered a host of delights ranging from the spangly melancholia of ‘Hear You Me’ to the charming, Lemonheads-like ‘Your House’ and the smart, electronica-tinged ‘Get It Faster’. However, the album’s most persuasive cuts were its quartet of powerful, hooky singles, of which the chugging, Pixies-esque ‘Salt Sweet Sugar’ and the irresistible outsider’s anthem, ‘The Middle’, arguably remain Jimmy Eat World’s signature hits.

The traumatic events of 9/11 notwithstanding, Bleed American (or Jimmy Eat World, as it would remain for the next seven years) went on to achieve everything the band and their label hoped for. Ably assisted by strong airplay and constant touring, the album quickly went gold in the US and earned a platinum certification by August 2002. It’s now widely regarded as an alt.rock touchstone, and its most popular number, ‘The Middle’ (which peaked at No.5 on the Billboard Hot 100), is still the one that unites Jimmy Eat World fans of all persuasions.

“It’s cool and it’s no lie to say it’s our hugest song to date,” Jim Adkins reflected in a 2013 interview. “Hell, how many bands don’t even get one ‘Middle’? It’s an amazing compliment. It’s a very flattering thing that, this far along, people still find something in what we do that they can relate to and care about.”

Bleed American can be bought here.

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