Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Shame Locker: Bands I Can’t Quite Claim

elitism801 Some bands I’ll never admit to liking. Call it shame, call it self-conscious snobbery – I won’t tell you how much I love Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. Not without an ironic aside, at least.

It’s not that Bleed American is bad. In fact, it’s very good – for what it is. See? There’s the qualifier. So long as I put Jimmy Eat World in its place, I can coo and patronize all I want. I probably read too much Pitchfork.

But really, the pathology is all mine. I keep my guilty pleasures in a dark, secret place; in the same way that, say, an evangelical preacher squirrels away his love for gay prostitutes and crystal meth. But while both prostitution and methamphetamines are a crime, having bad taste isn’t.

Really, it can be quite rewarding. See if you agree.

third_eye_blind Third Eye Blind

Why I Love Them: Third Eye Blind’s self-titled 1997 debut was one of the first CDs I ever owned. I listened to singles “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Jumper” and “How’s It Gonna Be” until my Walkman died, even though I didn’t quite understand what Stephen Jenkins meant when he rapped “How do I get back there, to the place where I fell asleep inside you?”

They released Blue a few years later – an awkward, over-ambitious sophomore album if ever there was – and my correspondingly awkward, over-ambitious teenage self flowed into songs like “Wounded” and “1,000 Julys.” I adopted Third Eye Blind as the de-facto soundtrack for my freshman year. In retrospect, this is funny; at 14, I still didn’t quite get it when Jenkins said “When you come, it’s like a thousand Julys.”

Why They’re Actually Good: Their debut album is one of the most radio-friendly CDs to be released in my lifetime. More than that, it’s just friendly: the hooks are easy and embraceable; the lyrics teeter between clever and corny, just as we like ‘em.

Why They Suck: Things really go south after Blue. The 2003 followup, Out Of the Vein, has some truly laughable moments. See “Misfits,” where Jenkins claims to be dizzy from “whatever we just passed around.” For me, this was like seeing your favorite uncle get drunk and fall over the patio furniture. The band emerged from a long silence in 2009 to release Ursa Major. Though preceded by “Red Star,” a promising cut, the album was totally forgettable (at best).

78414b9c87eb36c4fe882fae035bdd80_550x459 Jimmy Eat World

Why I Love Them: I remember when I first heard “The Middle,” the lead single off breakthrough album Bleed American: I was driving over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, proving I could drive more than 50 consecutive miles without getting in an accident. I seized on Jim Adkin’s nasally pop-emo vocals, and I was delighted to discover the album full of both adenoids and angst. It took the position previously occupied by Third Eye Blind, guiding me through late adolescence with golden hooks that probably made label DreamWorks very, very rich.

Futures, released in 2004, strained for maturity with mixed results. I loved it regardless and hoisted it like a personal standard. Did that feel shameless? Let me know; my therapist would be pleased to hear.

Why They’re Actually Good: Just listen to “The Authority Song.” This is good pop at its most essential: good hook, clear lyrics, clocking in at just over 3:30. And Bleed American is full of tracks as good, if not better. “A Praise Chorus” is (almost literally) one note, but like a Labrador retriever, its enthusiasm is undeniable, even charming. The elegiac “Hear You Me” hits and sustains that sweet spot between earnest and sickening.

Futures” is a great opener for their (ahem) mature album, brash and towering. “Just Tonight” trips Futures up early, but “Work,” a taut number that replicates the virtues of “The Authority Song” to a tee. Jimmy Eat World made music one could enjoy without much thought, but enrich enormously with a little consideration. I can’t say Animal Collective enjoys that flexibility.

Why They Suck: The follow-up to Futures, Chase This Light (2007), was execrable. Whatever was good and honest about “Hear You Me” became embarrassing in “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues,” and numbers like “Here It Goes” and “Firefight” are enough to make former fans fling their iPods across the room. “Chase This Light” enjoys an on-again, off-again spot on my workout mix, but that’s the best I can say for it.

I could go on. The Smashing Pumpkins earned a spot in the shame locker after 2007’s Zeitgeist; Hans Zimmer stores his considerable brass section there. I feel cleaner, now; thank you. Now let me genuflect before Pitchfork and check out a snippet of the new Grizzly Bear number.

Image credit: dieselsweeties.com