When I wrote about Jimmy Eat World’s 1996 album Static Prevails, I said it was seen as the work of a, “slightly above average punk band that hadn’t really done too much of any note”. But only a few years later, they were a main stream emo sensation, headlining festivals and getting high rotation airplay on commercial radio all over the world. What happened in between? Clarity happened, that’s what.
Straight away, the more emo, less punk vibe is clear, with Table for Glasses. While Static Prevails flirted with this kind of atmospheric sparseness, it’s more front and centre, more ethereal and more of “less” here than anything on its predecessor.
Immediately followed by Lucky Denver Mint, the two songs make a good bridge between the two albums. While Glasses takes the quieter, more contemplative sounds and takes them to the extreme, Mint is more like one of the poppier, more upbeat songs from previous years, pulled in and turned down a little.
Those aesthetics also combine well across Clarity to show they don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A song like A Sunday can have vocalist Jim Adkins’ voice at its most vulnerable and cracking, over crunchy guitars and water tight drums one minute, before turning to sweet, gentle vocals over strings the next. Then piling it all together for a surprisingly coherent mix.
While so many tracks before this make me think about what came before, Crush (and later the second half of Fireworks) is a clear indicator of what was to come a couple of years later on my favourite Jimmy Eat World album, Bleed American. It’s that perfect mixture of rock, pop, melody, sweetness and grit that is so prominent in the Jimmy Eat World songs that tend to stand out to me most.
Which make it only fitting that the very next track is a combination of the Jimmy Eat World quirks that I like the least. Long, slow repetitive and never really finding its feet or any momentum, 12.23.95 and Ten are perfect for background music or atmosphere building, but they’re not songs to consciously listening to for the sake of listening to it. There’s just not enough there.
On one hand, I can see how Clarity was the breakthrough for Jimmy Eat World. It’s definitely a more unique, personal sounding alum than Static Prevails. The only problem, for me, is that some of the uniqueness comes from the aspects I like least about the band. Static Prevails has an edge and urgency that I think Clarity sorely misses. The good news is, they found a much better balance of that unique vulnerability and urgent edge a few years later with the still awesome Bleed American.