Welcome to Jukebox Breakdown, a column where we write about songs we love. Less about overarching themes or through-lines, Jukebox Breakdown is simply a space for our thoughts on perfect tracks.
Jukebox Breakdown: Jimmy Eat World – “The Authority Song”
by Chad Jewett
Even on an album full of smart, nuanced pop songs, “The Authority Song” is an outlier. A late-arriving gem on Jimmy Eat World’s 2001 breakthrough Bleed American, “The Authority Song” is more playful than “The Middle” (the earnest pep-talk turned hit), less tense than “Sweetness” (boaster of the record’s single biggest hook), or “A Praise Chorus” (Bleed American’s most streamlined sugar rush). Perhaps because it specifically nods to a huge hit from two decades earlier (John “Cougar” Mellencamp’s 1983 single of the same name), or maybe because drummer Zach Lind’s hooky bass-snare-snare-bass-snare beat is sneakily danceable, “The Authority Song” seems to be having fun at its own expense, a charming interlude that finds Jimmy Eat World playing around in the idea of power-pop as though it were a Halloween costume. Hints of alt-country (those reedy Telecasters) and Motown (that confidence of theme and motif) sneak in, but the overriding sense is that of a band momentarily willing to indulge their most outsized FM-radio tastes. There are playful quotes around the bright embrace of “The Authority Song”, even though a track that catchy is no accident, and so much of Bleed American is similarly tuneful.
Indeed, “The Authority Song” bursts into the otherwise more introverted B Side of Bleed American as an effervescent rush amongst the sharp, angular “Cautioners” (reminiscent of the band’s 1999 masterpiece Clarity) and the hushed, reverent “My Sundown”. But the song’s lyrics – some of Jim Adkins best on the LP – actually fit the album’s more thoughtful back half in their easy-going cleverness. “It’s how the hustle goes / See what the jukebox knows”, “Honesty or mystery? / Tell me I’m not scared anymore”. In some ways, “The Authority Song” is the Side B sequel to “The Middle”, capturing similar sentiments of youthful doubt and unexpected revelation. The fact that the melody Adkins cooks up – expressive and punchy and elevated by brilliant punctuating harmonies courtesy of Rachel Haden – has a theatrical quality that lends the whole thing a boisterous dramatic flair. You picture the room, you picture the jukebox, you picture the whole slightly farcical scene of 20-somethings talking around each other to a beat that recalls mid-80s Replacements rolled in sugar. Jimmy Eat World only sounded like “The Authority Song” once, but it was enough to end up being one of the Arizona emo band’s most underrated successes.