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Record Review 

Uggh. Once upon a time, Jimmy Eat World played howling guitar-rock full of angst and passion. Now they sound like the Goo Goo Dolls.

This has not been a sudden turn of events but rather a gradual one that began with their 1996 major label debut, Static Prevails. It became more obvious on 1999's Clarity, which actually spawned a minor hit ("Lucky Denver Mint") but couldn't keep them from being dumped by their label, Capitol.

After the fallout, Boston-based indie label Big Wheel Records released an invigorating compilation of the band's taut and frazzled pre-Capitol singles, which serves as a telling contrast to their latest, Bleed American. Their early tracks crackle with scrappy energy -- the playing may be a little sloppy, but it's genuine. Next to their early tracks, the energy on Bleed American sounds manufactured, as if studio ingenuity is supposed to be a fair substitute for actual enthusiasm.

These guys are talented songwriters and the playing is first-rate, but this is supposed to be rock 'n' roll. Clean, crisp guitar lines and immaculate production will make tracks like "The Middle," "Sweetness" and "Hear You Me" irresistible to the hacks that put together soundtracks for teensploitation films and WB melodramas, but they've got no discernable heart. As faceless modern-rock fluff, "A Praise Chorus" is certainly serviceable; in fact, catchy, hummable melodies pour from every corner of the album. Still, the band's very real charms are obscured by a high shine that renders them indistinguishable from the legions of soul-sucking hacks that the record industry has been shoving down our throats for the better part of a decade.

Jimmy Eat World play on the Vans Warped Tour Wed., July 25, at HiFi Buys Amphitheatre.

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