Thirteen years ago, I remember hearing the riff from Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American for the first time. It hit me harder than almost any other single moment in a song I can remember. It still hits me pretty hard when it pops up on today. I quickly bought the album of the same name and have listened to it pretty steadily ever since. The Middle might be the song from that album that still gets steady airplay on Australian radio, but the entire album has aged extremely well.
Reading a little about the band over the years, I’ve come to realise that the album that had that same impact on the real diehard fans actually came a couple of years before Breed American, with 1999’s Clarity. But before that, many saw them as a slightly above average punk band that hadn’t really done too much of any note. So before I tackle Clarity, I thought I should get a bit more perspective on those early, not so remarkable years, with Static Prevails.
Immediately, I have to wonder why these earlier years are seen as nothing special. The opening of Thinking, That’s All and Rockstar is a great introduction of everything I love about latter Jimmy Eat World. In two songs, we get a great indication of Jimmy Eat World at their loudest, rockiest and yelliest, as well as their more restrained and contemplative.
Then Claire finds a way to combine both extreme dynamics in one song. It’s also a great showcase of Jim Adkins’ vocals. A huge part of everything right about Jimmy Eat World, Adkins can go from scream, to broken vulnerability, to soaring, to rock anthem and back again, all on the turn of a dime.
With Seventeen, I realise Static Prevails is one of those albums that’s hard to talk about why I like it so much. This is a song that randomly ended up on my iPod years ago and l’ve always loved it. Hearing it here, in context with the rest of the album, I like it even more. I can’t articulate why without repeating what I’ve already said above, but Seventeen is that same great combination of quiet and loud, cocky and vulnerable, in your face and subtle, that makes me like the above mentioned songs. It just does it all in a different way that means there’s nothing repetitive going on.
With its almost whispered vocals, jangled guitars, tom heavy drums and lyrics like “Let’s dance in time to the songs we’ve never liked”, Episode IV is Static Prevails’ moment to get tender. It’s heartfelt and genuine, it’s just not the kind of song that I look for on a Jimmy Eat World album. While follow up, Digits delivers the kind of energy I am looking for, it bookends it with such long and pointless intros and outros that it’s hardly worth the effort of sitting through those to get to the meat in the middle.
This second half malaise continues with Caveman. It has its merits, but also feels like it’s barely able to get any momentum to move forward. Almost like they recorded the album in one take, and needed songs like this and Episode IV to catch their breath after the awesome assault of the opening tracks.
But that breather is justified when Jimmy Eat World launches into World is Static. Adkins voice is unleashed more here than anywhere else and it adds a level of passion and raw sincerity that’s impossible to ignore. It launches a strong run to the finish that holds strong until the kind of inessential Anderson Mesa.
While Jimmy Eat World were still one album away from their big breakthrough, Static Prevails is a more than solid album that doesn’t just hint at what they were to become, it actually does it, more than once. Maybe they’d become more consistent after this, but this is still an album where the good is really good. And, it more than outweighs the bad.