Static Prevails

Jimmy Eat World

Capitol, 1996

http://www.jimmyeatworld.net

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/03/2013

When I saw Green Day live in 2005, the opening act was Jimmy Eat World, a quartet who were by then well known for the earnest, rather bipolar melodic rock (which some critics insisted on labeling “emo”… whatever) found on their third and fourth albums, Bleed American and Futures. I’m sure some in the audience at the time were mystified as to why they were opening for Green Day, those overlords of sassy punk-pop, but the fact is that Jimmy Eat World began as essentially a punk band. Earnest, “emo” punk, to be sure, but at least as raw and ragged at the start as Billy Joe Armstrong and company ever have been. Much like Green Day, they acquired some skill and polish along the way and used it judiciously to evolve their sound and reach a wider audience.

Things were different back at the time of their 1996 debut Static Prevails, though. The raw materials of Jimmy’s later success are present here—in particular, the chunka-chunka rhythm guitar lines that would eventually become the backbone of “The Middle,” the Bleed American single that broke the band, along with bold dynamics that find the Jimmys ranging from delicate, whispery chords to thundering, anthemic riffs. But at this point guitarists Jim Adkins and Tom Linton were still sharing lead vocal duties—Adkins would become the sole lead vocalist by the time of Bleed American—and at this stage, both favored a ragged-glory approach to their vocals that is at times genuinely difficult to listen to.

The early part of the album is the strongest, with opener “Thinking, That’s All” and “Call It In The Air” both featuring that trademark chugging guitar sound; unfortunately, the vocals on both verge on unlistenable as Adkins bellows and shrieks. The latter tune features a couple of tricks the band would later master, layered harmonies and a breakdown to just lead vocals and guitar, creating space. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Rockstar” is the one tune here that feels like a true prototype for the Jimmy Eat World to come; the energy is strong and the arrangement is solid, with Linton’s lead vocals the only real weak point. But then they backslide immediately with “Claire,” wherein the soft-heavy dynamics are undercut by Adkins growling like he just gargled Drano and oversinging the choruses. The final chorus, which should hit like a laser-guided missile, is instead a shambolic mess.

At the end of “Seventeen” the boys try out an interesting dueling-vocals bit just as things are getting heavy and frantic, but then they close down the song immediately. “Episode IV” is an example of the sort of slow, intense, pulsing ballad that would become a Jimmy specialty, but the vocals again undercut the entire track. And “Digits” is a misfired experiment: two and a half minutes of melancholy noodling that abruptly explodes into a ragged punky fury that’s nothing short of annoying. The chorus features an adventurous riff, and the little mid-song breakdowns presage future shining moments for the Jimmy. This track, however, is a train wreck, evidence of a band that learned to play long before they learned to write and arrange.

“Caveman” is another workmanlike punk-pop number with an extended mellow outro that’s basically just more noodling. “World Is Static” similarly starts with 1:10 of meandering before erupting into another out-of-control thrashfest, punctuated by a throat-shredding wail or three—a repellent sound that makes it all the more dismaying when they almost immediately move into vocal harmonizing that’s almost pretty and points toward the band’s future. If only they’d gotten there a little sooner.

“In The Same Room” feels half-formed, opening with a faraway through-a-radio voice before morphing into a gentle dirge that blossoms at the choruses. “Robot Factory” kicks off with blazing guitars and a breakneck tempo, whereas closer “Anderson Mesa” does more of an Explosions In The Sky-style steady build. If only this track’s adventurous, sometimes majestic feel wasn’t thoroughly undercut by the vocals, which range from rough and whispery to throat-shredding agony.

My review of Clarity noted the development of the group’s lyrics between that album and Bleed American; I’d comment on them here if I could understand more than a handful of lines in each song; the vocals are so raw on this album that Adkins and Linton are nearly unintelligible much of the time. It’s all about adrenaline at this point, with overamped vocals, overaggressive playing and precious little craftsmanship.

Musical detectives will be able to discern the building blocks of Jimmy Eat World’s future sound here, it’s true, but the raw and ragged Static Prevails is strictly for completists.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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