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Jimmy Eat World – Clarity: Phoenix Sessions (2021)

Like many folks who love them now, my first introduction to Jimmy Eat World is not one with a sense of major indie cred.

I was 16, going on 17 years old, when this awesome “Salt, Sweat, Sugar” song was taking control of Baltimore/DC’s own WHFS 99.1. The song — and its album — were both called Bleed American, though shortly after its release, the song itself would find a home on a post 9/11 “Do Not Play” list, alongside the album itself being renamed simply Jimmy Eat World.

But make no mistake, the song took a hold on me. As a Weezer obsessive whose tastes were growing by leaps and bounds due to services like Napster and Audiogalaxy, there was something in the tones of this Arizona based band which spoke to me. That Christmas, I got my copy of Bleed American (gifted to me by my grandmother, who I’ve no doubt was guided by the hand of my mother and my Christmas list that year) and promptly wore a hole in it.

WIth my friends and I reaching driving age, this meant that many of our nights out were spent record shopping, whether in the bins at Best Buy, local houses of musical worship like Sound Garden, or high-priced outlets like The Wall, Sam Goody or FYE.

I quickly started to amass the rest of the Jimmy Eat World collection. Their first album, Static Prevails? Got it. The b-side and 7” compilation Singles (which really needs to make it to streaming), I had it.

But one album seemed impossible to find. 1999’s Clarity.

Though I was not as intimately familiar with the whole story of the album at the time, Clarity was basically buried by its label upon release. And this made it very hard to get copies, as the label itself wasn’t super behind it in the first place. (For more on this, check out Dan Ozzi’s awesome new book, Sellout). All I knew from the scuttlebutt I heard online was that this was, simply, a great album.

So, as a 17 year old in Baltimore in 2002, I didn’t have a lot of options to find this heralded release. It was a bit harder to download an album as a whole, and if it was so good, I needed to hear it in its entirety. I didn’t have a bankcard yet, so online ordering was a crapshoot. I just had to keep hitting the same stores, hoping for something to finally appear in the J-section.

Cut to April 2002.

Some Saturday, I’m all in my feelings. I was supposed to go see The Scorpion King with some friends the evening before, instead, I spent the night bearing my feelings to a girl who didn’t feel the same. My friends were furious I ditched them. My heart was broken. It’s incredibly silly now, but at the time, this was everything.

My mom, awesome as always, tries to get me to buck up, “Why don’t we go get some lunch, pop into Best Buy.” Shock of shocks, a combination of a burger and tech purchases work as well now as they did then.

Never the less, I’m walking through the CD section, and what’s in the J section?

Jimmy Eat World. Bleed American. Have that. Singles. Have that. Clarity…

Clarity.

CLARITY.

And that’s how Clarity became the album I listened to non-stop as I wrapped up my senior year of high school.

Considered to be a watershed moment for the modern emo movement, Clarity is a hell of an album, but also an outlier in that movement. There are harder songs, there are softer songs. There’s strings and drum machines and more. This is a young band using every possible tool at their disposal while their label foots the bill and loses faith.

From the soft opening tones of “Table for Glasses” to the pop perfection of “Lucky Denver Mint” to the rage of “Your New Aesthetic” (which of course inspired my high school era band) to the blistering title track to the catharsis of “Goodbye Sky Harbor”, there’s not a single track to be skipped. It was the right album in my Discman at the right time.

I still remember so vividly, standing in anticipation during my high school graduation, “For Me This Is Heaven” on repeat in my head, desperately painting these last moments into my memories.

The album has lived with me since. From CD to an iTunes rip on my iPod to being on both my Spotify and Apple Music libraries. It always transported me to this specific time and place.

At the beginning of the year, Jimmy Eat World announced some very special live streams, as did many bands during this ongoing global pandemic.

They’d be revisiting 3 of their favorite albums in 3 live streams.

January 15, 2021 would be their most recent release, Surviving. January 29, 2021, would be the fan-beloved Futures. But on February 12, 2021, they would revisit Clarity.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I was unable to catch these myself, but starting last week, these recordings were now available for streaming. And today, Clarity: Phoenix Sessions was released.

It’s amazing what time can do.

Over 20 years after the release of the album, and nearly 20 years after I finally got to hear it, Clarity is once again in my ears.

The band has never sounded stronger. The vocals, the musicianship, all of it is at a level they could only wish to have at the time of recording. They were kids playing big time band. Now they’re adults who lived it. The songs have never sounded better. Little tweaks here and there, some world weariness and depth which never existed now casts itself upon these songs which I’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands of times.

Age and weight have been brought to Clarity, much how age and weight brought clarity to my own life.

From 17 to 37, this album has stayed with me, and with Clarity: Phoenix Sessions, it’s back with me again.

Note: This is my first time writing anything at length since my amazing step-father was admitted to hospice, and ultimately passed away on October 2, 2021.

Trying to be creative has been very difficult since. But as the writing above shows, the right piece of art can inspire you at the right time. I didn’t even know the effect this was going to have on me, but as the album played in my ears, I knew I had to rush to the keyboard. Right place, right art, right time.

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