Album: Clarity
Artist: Jimmy Eat World
Producer: Mark Trombino
Release Date: June 23, 1999
Vocals/Guitar: Jim Adkins
Guitar: Tom Linton
Bass: Rick Burch
Drums: Zach Lind

In 1999, Jimmy Eat World was suffering from a dismal relationship with their major label, Capitol Records. Only a few people at the label really cared about the band, and this was apparent in the lack of promotion being done for JEW's followup album to 1996's Static Prevails. The label was apprehensive to promote a band that produced music that didn't sound like it belonged on the radio. So Jimmy Eat World continued to tour like maniacs, usually opening for bands on smaller independant labels, doing most of the promotion themselves.

When it was time to go back in the studio to make another album, Capitol paid little attention. The band teamed up with Static Prevails co-produder Mark Trombino and headed back into the studio and recorded the greatest album of all time (in my opinion), Clarity.

The album begins with "Table For Glasses", a track that goes against everything Jimmy Eat World had recorded up to that point. There is no chugging guitar riff and no desperate yelling. The song begins with the hum of an organ accompanied by a sparse drum beat. Jim Adkins opens the album softly singing:

Sweep the dirty stairs,
the ones I waited on.
This is just for me.
I felt it watching her.
It happens too fast
to make sense of it,
make it last.

The song moves at the pace of a funeral march slowly building energy. Trombino's production skills shine through as the track nears the end and Jim Adkins is harmonizing with himself and 4 of his vocal clones.

From here the band dives into "Lucky Denver Mint", the only single from the album. It's a solid pop song, but it took me probably a hundred listens before I really began to appreciate it. The song combines live and electronic drumming, which sounds absolutely great in the intro and fade-out, but the whole middle is marred by over-repetition of the chorus.

The next song is "Your New Aesthetic", which opens with Tom Linton's guitar and Rick Burch's bass chugging in unison with Jim speaking out against mainstream radio. As the song builds up to the chorus, we hear some great harmonizing between Jim and... um... Jim. The bridge has some of the best vocals on the entire album, particularly at 1:10 into the song as Jim's Arizonian accent comes through when he sings "You better sing now while you can!". The chorus begins on the wrong foot, pushing the vocals into an uninteresting background, with a wall of indistinguishable guitars churning through the speakers. Once the vocals are the focus again, the chorus becomes a fight song, and it becomes clear that Jim is a little angry at the state of radio.

Up next is "Believe In What You Want", which sounds like a bastardized version of "Your New Aesthetic". The lyrics are kind of cheesy throughout, and they come across as forced, especially during the chorus. One positive is the staccatto guitar riff which is constant throughout the song. Fortunately, the song is rather short and a much better song comes next.

"On A Sunday" is one of the slower songs on the album, but it definately is not mellow. Like many JEW songs, it opens up with a simple melody and builds up to a rousing conclusion. Jim makes heavy use of alternative instruments on this track, and the song begins with of all things, a xylophone solo (DUUUDE, DID YOU HEAR THAT XYLOPHONE RIFF? YOU DA MAN ZACH, ROCK ON!!!). Soon the band comes in accompanied by a smorgasborg of strings, organs, moogs, and chimes. The lyrics are pretty swell, and while I have no idea what he is talking about, he definately creates a nice mood: "The haze clears from your eyes/ On a Sunday". The song hits its stride in the last minute with some passionate vocals by Jim and with every instrument going all out. And just for all the xylophoners out there, Zach closes with another pleasing solo.

If this album was a five course meal, you would have just finished cleansing your palate with a little sorbet, and are eyeing the T-bone steak (tofurkey for vegetarians) that has been placed in front of you. With the next song, "Crush" you take your first bite of the medium-rare meat, coated with tangy sauces and seasoning, and the main course has begun. "Crush" begins with a loud and vibrant smack of the guitar strings and then dives into a fast-paced and energetic rock song. Tom and Jim's guitars are the focus of the song, but Zach shows he can pound the drums hard as well. I am a failure when it comes to deciphering lyrics, but I am pretty sure Jim is trying to tell us about a fleeting moment of romance, "Faintest snow keep falling,/FALLING, yeah./Hands around your waist/NAMELESS, standing cold". The fast pace continues until the end and the song fades out with a cry of distortion.

The next song is weird shit, beginning with a moog and some electronic beats, though moving at a deliberate pace. "12.23.95" sounds like one of those ambient electronica songs that only sound brilliant when dropping acid. Jim joins in with a lyric, "Didn't mean to leave you hanging on, alone/ Merry Christmas baby." which he repeats enough to fill up the song. More electronic noise which I can't identify appears throughout the song, along with some looped guitars. This song has never been played live, except by Jim's alt-folk side project, Go Big Casino.

"Ten" begins much like "Lucky Denver Mint" with a similar drum beat. However, this song has a much more mellow sound. A clean piano-like guitar is accompanied by a backing piano, and later an acoustic guitar. Jim's multiple voices convincingly repeat "blame no one" in a wonderfully calming tone. This song is is like Valium for the ears. Mmmmmm, nice.

The greatest song on the album is next, though "Just Watch The Fireworks" opens rather wussily with Jim pleading to us, "Here, you can be anything/I think that scares you" over a simple guitar/piano line. The Celine Dion schtick is over quickly though, and then this 7-minute song truly begins to rock. The song is driven by a large string accompanyment and Jim's vocals clearly take the backseat. The second half of the song is a complete masterpiece, and I can only ask you to listen to this song because I can't explain how perfect it sounds.

"For Me This is Heaven" is next and is a beautiful piece of music as well. This is Jim's best song vocally, and the melodies played by the guitars are nothing short of brilliant. The lyrics are also some of my favorite, "I'm careful but not sure how it goes. You can lose yourself in your courage. The mindless comfort grows when I'm alone with my 'great' plans. The harmonies between the guitars, pianos, and vocals as the song nears the end catapulted Mark Trombino to being a premier producer for modern rock music.

"Blister" follows, and it stands out because Tom takes over on vocals. I personally, dislike Tom's voice, it seems too deep and husky. However this is a still a great song and the vocal harmonies are perfect. This song has a very "hard rock" sound and Tom shows off his talent on guitar throughout. Lyrically, "Blister" is nothing special though.

The title track is a mid-tempo rock song, and the focus is on the guitars which sound great together. Jim's vocals are also excellent and he does a lot of great yelling. The lyrics go very well with the churning guitars, and the chorus seems pretty similar to that of "Just Watch the Fireworks". However, by the time this song is over, it doesn't stand out much from the rest of the album.

The final song is the epic "Goodbye Sky Harbor". Clocking in at 16 minutes, it definately runs the risk of boring the listener, however it somehow manages to avoid doing so. The first 3 minutes follow a quiet/loud progression but at the 4 minutes mark, the song enters a calming melody that continues for the next 12 minutes. All the instruments are looped but as the song progresses, you start to notice little variations that start to develop. Some vocals join in at the 6 minute mark to add some doos, das, nanas, and dananas. Soon an organ joins in and adds a Counting Crows vibe. The whole concept of adding a little change after each repetition of the melody borrows from the electronic music scene. At 12 minutes, the music gradually drops away and we are left with a few voices harmonizing with some weird humming noises to the beat of a shaker. An electronic drum kit enters the song and fills the void with some cool tapping and clicking. Soon the rest of the instruments join in, now including some echoey chimes which harness the song and topple it in a beautiful mess of distorted noise.

INTERESTING FACT: Goodbye Sky Harbor refers to Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport, located in Arizona, Jimmy Eat World's home state.

INTERESTING FACT #2: Goodbye Sky Harbor contains many lines from A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving. Jim Adkins is a fan of the book.

On June 23rd 1999, Clarity was finally released. Despite the undoubted excellence of the album, it recieved anemic publicity, and Capitol barely hyped it. Despite a warm reception by critics and major radio play for Lucky Denver Mint on KROQ, 6 months after Clarity was released Jimmy Eat World was dropped by Capitol. Normally, this would be the end of a band, very few can survive being dropped by a major label. But somehow, Jimmy Eat World took the firing in stride, and returned in a way nobody predicted. But THAT is an entirely different story...

sources: my head and allmusic.com

Ever since adolescence, there have been times when mental interference has overwhelmed me, knocking my thought processes out of balance. When my general stress level rises beyond the zone of comfort- during the final weeks of the semester at school, for example- anything from a television blaring through the concrete walls of my dorm room to a sideways glance from a stranger can trigger the collapse of rational thought. Thoughts and emotions are some of the things I enjoy most, but they can also fuel the bonfires of fear and helplessness I create. As my obsessions pile on top of one another, all initiative to act is quickly snuffed out. To fight obsession is to provoke it; to flee it is a direct invitation to be swept away entirely. The only real escape from this vicious cycle is to spend some time recharging and meet with a close friend to uncoil from the tense, constricted mood.

On the other end of the spectrum are times when the connection between thought and action is completely clear and I accept reality with all its uncertainties. Panic attacks are generally brought on by the anticipation of the next attack, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, moments of clarity come and go without warning. My obsessions, compulsions and morbid pessimism- along with a host of other psychic parasites- slink off into the background. There are no distractions; I am left alone to take part in the world in a direct manner, unhindered by the gut-wrenching terror of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These moments of clarity are generally brought to my attention by the presence of another human being.

Late 2003 was one of the first times a clear state of mind came to my attention. Winter was around us and we abandoned the warmth of the Pour House, a twenty-minute walk down Main Street from McDaniel College, to explore Westminster. I was in the company of my friend Heather, a slightly scatterbrained, charming young woman who had lived in the area for the majority of her 23 years of life. I was much more willing to stretch my limited knowledge of the area in the reassuring presence of someone who knew every side-street and alleyway in town. We walked the graveyard circuit behind Main street, admiring the variety of stones with our hands in our pockets and warm breath against the cold air. When we came upon a small church lit by old-fashioned electric lamplight, she showed me a sarcophagus-shaped hunk of stone that was fissured down the middle and cracked in several places. According to legend, she told me, the stone marked the grave of a slave driver and as hard as they tried to keep the stone intact, every year it would break apart again. She had her doubts about the ghost theory and believed more firmly in the changes of the earth and underground currents.

Up until that point I had very little idea of the age of the town and knew nothing of its history aside from what I could grasp through its antiquated architecture. Despite the linear East-West layout of the main drag, I discovered that there are quite a few convenient back streets running along the town. The grid-like arrangement is reminiscent of the District of Columbia, where I was born and where I still manage to get lost. On the drives North to college from home I watched the trend of development, a shifting and growing gradient that is on the cusp of enveloping Westminster and all of Carroll County. I recognized the early signs of economic growth and ravenous construction of homes and office buildings that was so familiar at home and took interest in Heather's feelings about her changing hometown. "I can't wait," she said, "I may not go to the city but the city will come to me. It's changing already."

As we emerged from the back streets into the open space of Main Street, we began to drop the beat of our conversation and ease into silence. Each storefront was dark and the streets were completely empty; the only activity was a flashing street light. In the midst of moments like these, words become sparse and the desire to attribute vocal meaning to every experience gives in to the clumsiness of articulation. The conversational lull turned into a hush that blanketed everything as we became aware of the sensation, like a vague phantom at the corner of our vision. Heather deftly recovered her rhythm; "It's so quiet. It's almost never like this."

Don and I kept each other company during the summer of 2004 when I worked briefly at Johnson's plant store in Kensington, my old home town. Most of our fellow employees were post-menopausal women, and while our female coworkers were warm and fascinating people, we both appreciated the male company. Don, although he was middle-aged, had a stout and boyish look to him that slightly resembled the young Marlin Brando. There was a cool and cordial manner about him.

He had a thorough comprehension of the plant world. It took him seven years of working in the business to acquire this encyclopedic knowledge, but it made him an ideal salesman. Business rolled smoothly when Don was around and his charming personality reeled in many return customers. From time to time, Don would attract unwanted attention from older women who frequented the store. Not one to be rude, he simply kept alert and took convenient cigarette breaks when certain customers showed up.

Don had spent his earlier years bar tending, which explained his ability to tend to customers efficiently and quickly retrieve information from his expansive memory. Each morning he rolled up on his skateboard wearing dark shades and a teal Johnson's shirt. A day's work with Don was guaranteed to be filled with whatever odd-jobs he could find during the dead weeks of late August. His constant activity and stories that he meshed skillfully into our work eased the time by a little faster.

No one brought up why Don didn't have a driver's license, so he took the opportunity to drive the forklift any chance he could get. Whenever something in the front parking lot needed moving, he made sure somebody had the counter covered and went out back to "mount his stallion". Don was very sensitive and mature but he was also fond of distinctly male, 'Ren & Stimpy' style humor. Emerging from the back of the store, a cigarette hung from one side of his mouth as he skillfully maneuvered around the parking lot. He was serious about staying busy most of the time but he was always willing to spin a yarn, like the time he broke the speed limit going down a steep hill on his skateboard. "I was really afraid I was going to die that time." he said as he mimicked putting out his arms for maximum wind resistance. Don's eyes caught me off-guard every time I saw him without his shades on; they were clear sky blue.

One still Sunday I looked between the two A-frames from behind the counter. I looked past the drooping, late-season plants that waited to be sold from under the rain enclosure and saw Don looking up at the sky, a water wand dripping in his hand.

"Listen," he said. It was silent.

"It's like a ghost town."

We stood for a moment, waiting. There were no cars. There were no people. The wind blew gently.

It's taken me a good bit of time and the help of several friends to discover the tools I need to derail my runaway thought trains. Matt, a friend of mine who was a senior at McDaniel in 2003, inspired me to continue facing my fears. One notable occasion was a blustery day in January, the tail-end of a Winter of poor weather and sickness at McDaniel. A patchy mixture of ice and a crust of hardened snow covered the parking lot out in front of the freshman dorm. I was heading out with a group of friends for a late dinner at a Chinese restaurant in town. The sky was clear; its depth and arrangement of colors was beautiful, but my mind was churning away somewhere else.

I don't remember what exactly caused my distress that day but the worrisome thoughts took their familiar shape and structure. They have a tendency to build on top of one another until they reach a peak of severe agitation. As we walked along under the permanently lit lights of the freshman dorm, I tried to explain my situation to Matt. It didn't take him long to detect the disturbance in my mood. Mid-way through my explanation, he waved a finger in front of my face as if he were casting a spell. "Just don't think so much." he said, smiling knowingly. A swift reaction took place; my thoughts slowed down, quelled by his intervention. I carried on walking, calmly allowing my momentum and gravity to carry me down the hill, in awe of the simplicity of freedom.

Clar"i*ty (?), n. [L. claritas, fr. clarus clear: cf. F. clart'e.]

Clearness; brightness; splendor.

Floods, in whose more than crystal clarity, Innumerable virgin graces row. Beaumont.

 

© Webster 1913.

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