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Rock Solid: Jimmy Eat World

Welcome to Rock Solid, where we pseudo-scientifically determine the most beloved album in an artist's catalog. I've consulted two main sources. The All Music Guide provides the critical point-of-view and Amazon offers the fan perspective. The album with the highest combined rating from both sources is the one I'll consider the best. An artist's entire body of work is eligible, with one exception: No compilations (i.e. greatest hits). In each case, I'll also share my personal favorite album by the artist in question.

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Success stories are rarely as satisfying as Jimmy Eat World's. After getting scooped up by a major label (Capitol) within a year of forming, the band recorded two albums and then got dropped and left for dead. But the band regrouped and recorded an album on their own dime, sold it to Dreamworks, and scored a career-defining #5 hit, "The Middle." Eighteen years later, they're still together, still drawing healthy crowds, and still releasing records on major labels.

That album, released in the summer of 2001, was Bleed American, and it's Jimmy Eat World's consensus Rock Solid. All Music Guide gave it four-and-a-half stars. So did Amazon reviewers.  Its two closest competitors are Clarity (1999) and Futures (2004), each a half star behind. Very spirited arguments could be made on behalf of each of those records, but first let's let the winner bathe in the warm glow of attention and accolades.

AMG's Mark Vanderhoff says Bleed American "features compelling lyrics, driving guitar work, and insanely catchy melodies." Despite Jimmy's affiliation with emo, Vanderhoff labels the music "straight-ahead rock & roll, performed with punk energy and alt-rock smarts."

Two common threads in the Amazon reviews are the album's consistency and its soul-stirring core. "Ron" described the record as "emotional music that can make you dance and feel happy and then the next song make you feel their pain and sadness." In 2007, "Viva" wrote, "I need to see if they have made another record, because I have enjoyed playing this one so much. I don't dislike a single song on this record, honestly." (If only there had been some way for her to learn about the Jimmy Eat World discography before she wrote that review.)

"Clay Bacon" opined, "JIMMY EAT WORLD is a rare accomplishment that stretches across musical genres, the Billboard charts, and audiences of all ages. The young can appreciate the honest lyrics and the power of each song, and while the old may not be blasting this album in their stereos, they can appreciate the great melodic structures of the songs." And finally "Little Willow"'s 2002 review demonstrates just how much Jimmy Eat World have remained relevant beyond their moment in the charts. She wrote, "I strongly recommend this album, especially to folks who like Dexter Freebish, Phantom Planet or other bands in that vein."

I don't have a whole lot to add. Every single song on Bleed American is distinctive - there are anthems, thrashers, and ballads - but they all manage to hold together rather than clashing, likely because the record is perfectly sequenced. It has the songs, the story, and cultural impact to make it worthy of the time capsule.

But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention its competitors. Clarity is a watershed album for lots of Jimmy Eat World fans, and many would argue that it has a purity and range that Bleed American doesn't. And it's not just fans. The WhatCulture article I mentioned in Jimmy's Rock Bottom entry places Clarity at the top of their rankings, with Bleed American as runner-up.

Bleed American's follow-up, Futures, is also a dark horse candidate. I was fairly shocked in recent years to learn that, despite all the hype about "The Middle," Futures was actually many fans' first exposure to Jimmy Eat World. In concert I've noticed that its songs - "Pain," "Kill," "Work," "23" -  get a consistently stronger audience reaction than the ones from Bleed American.

Personally, while I agree wholeheartedly that Bleed American is their Rock Solid, I can't pick a definitive personal favorite. I feel too close to nearly all of their records, so any given day I might mount an argument for any of the above three albums, or Chase This Light or Invented or Damage or Integrity Blues

Will somebody please tell that to Viva?!


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