June 8, 2013

Album Review: Jimmy Eat World's Damage


Most bands credited with breaking emo into the mainstream during the early Aughties have struggled to maintain footing ever since their fan base ceased copy-pasting lyrics into AIM away messages, stowed away those digipacks of Vagrant releases somewhere in their parents’ basement and replaced them with a vinyl box of grown-up-approved indie rock. Jimmy Eat World has transcended the nostalgia factor that keeps perpetually adolescent bands like Saves the Days and Taking Back Sunday on life support by enduring with commercial success, yet the connection with yesteryear’s peak outputs Clarity, Bleed American and Futures is still the sweet spot that keeps aging twenty-somethings from moving away from them altogether. For their eighth studio album (and first since exiting Interscope and recording independently before inking a deal with RCA,) the Mesa, AZ quartet has decided to do their core audience a solid by writing what frontman and lyricist Jim Adkins describes as an “adult breakup album.”

There’s no shortage of emotions here, but it’s the lack of ideas that end up stunting Jimmy Eat World's growth spurt. The last time we heard them was on the underappreciated 2010 return to form Invented where they had decided to appease all corners of their catalog with an even offering of big-sounding rock ready for both airplay as well as close-spaced Clarity glory thanks to Tom Linton's return to front mic. Hushed ballads worth wallowing in and even some progressive reevaluation in the vain of Frightened Rabbits' folksy emotiveness that Jimmy Eat World is ironically credited to inspiring rounded out the fray. Damage on the other hand strips away their ambitions to remain pace, instead concentrating almost entirely on Alain Johannes' under-produced lullabies that are hardly as complex nor containing of as much depth in their souls as anything prior to this LP. The early-hitting title track and closer "You Were Good" put their weight behind generic acoustic jangles with faceless hooks while "Byebyelove"'s seemingly endless chorus repetition escalates to a point on nowhere ("Please Say No" would middle around the same territory, if not for Linton's harmonies lifting what's unfortunately come to sound like forced sap at this point from Adkins into something resembling sincerity.) When the quartet turns up the amps, plugs in their pedals and hits the drums harder, the results are an expectantly heavier turn in "I Will Steal You Back," a single that would have worked well on Futures' darker spread, fuzzy-riffed power-pop in "Lean" and "How'd You Have Me" that wear a bit thin through mediocre chord progressions, and an okay attempt at Arcade Fire-styled indie conjecturing, "Book of Love."

On album opener "Appreciation," Adkins aches, "There's something I feel I haven't felt since I was a kid...," and it's one of the few examples on Damage where the lyrics actually justify the heavy-hearted treble while reminding a longtime listener why they fell in love with this band as a teenager in the first place. Had every track on Damage sounded as rich as this or "No, Never," its affecting content would likely stand a greater chance at building a personal connection that sticks around for future rotations. The frontman recently talked about how he had to write the breakup songs heard here on Damage from the perspective of a 37-year-old, but it turns out they don't offer any additional words of wisdom about romance gone wrong when they aren't built by his 23-year-old peak-era self who at least sounded like he had something to prove. In comparison, the latest effort from Paramore, whose members have a decade less life experience in them than Jimmy Eat World, speaks more to adult growing pains than the veteran mainstream emo rock band from which they derived does by placing emotional emphasis behind both introspection and an ambitiously glossy sound. Jimmy Eat World's intent to write their fanbase of aging millennials a grown-up breakup soundtrack has its heart in the right place, but they've undershot these goals with diluted songwriting and production that doesn't hit the nerve endings like it used to. Emotions are laid heavily here on Damage, which means its easy to get caught up in the nostalgia of it all, and yet, if you still find yourself turning to Clarity or Bleed American for comfort food at its finest in your lonesome studio apartment, that's completely understandable, too.


Jimmy Eat World's Damage will be released June 11, 2013 on RCA Records.

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