A New Era For Jimmy Eat World

Image courtesy jimmyeatworld.com

Image courtesy of jimmyeatworld.com

When you’re a band like Jimmy Eat World, creating new music to captivate fans can be tricky.  After more than two decades together and eight studio albums to date, attempting to surpass the quality of their established work in addition to the inevitable impact of nostalgia is a task that’s borderline impossible.  The band’s 2013 album, Damage, received mixed reception; some tracks stood out to fans, but overall, there wasn’t a lot of love for its production nor excitement for it in general.  After touring for Damage and for the tenth anniversary of Futures, the band members took a year off from Jimmy Eat World to really ask themselves why they were making a ninth album and then came back to give it a fresh go.

That’s the concept with which they approached Integrity Blues, their new album released on October 21st, from its inception to its music and lyrics.  It’s about avoiding complacency and instead asking yourself that question of “why,” constantly opening yourself to new possibilities and looking at hardships as an opportunity for growth.

Listening to Integrity Blues, it’s clear that the band truly took a step back to examine themselves before moving forward.  The melodic-rock album is refreshing and different, and it feels like a step forward in the best way.  The lead single “Get Right” is a catchy, rocking song that’s familiar territory to ease the transition, but the album feels brand new.  You don’t really need any anchor songs to adjust, though; Integrity Blues maintains the feeling of a Jimmy Eat World album, and it’s full of genuine emotion and energy, something that’s conveyed by the vibrant and colorful album artwork.  Whether you’ve got their entire discography and have listened to it to death or you’re a total newcomer, the atmospheric and optimistic world of Integrity Blues is an experience that won’t disappoint.

Lead singer Jim Adkins brings his A-game as usual, with powerful vocals for anthemic choruses, quiet, haunting murmurs during softer sections, and belting out the most emotional lines poignantly.  But Integrity Blues makes Jimmy Eat World feel like a full, cohesive band more than the stripped-down nature of Damage.  As somebody who thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of Damage, I don’t necessarily state that as an objective positive, but certainly the production of Integrity Blues works extremely well and allows for layered music with a lot to appreciate.

The album kicks off strongly with the open, carefree-sounding “You With Me” and “Sure And Certain,” both of which feel like the perfect accompaniment to a cool evening drive through a city.  “You With Me” sets the tone for the album as it fades in with slow guitar strums backing echoed vocalizations, and Adkins reflects on a failed relationship, contemplating, “What makes our love so hard to be / Is it you, or is that you with me? / For just the possibility / I’d have given anything.”  The follow-up in “Sure And Certain” maintains the energy the album began with and builds on it with a strong guitar riff, reflecting the album’s mission statement in encouraging constant reconsideration and change over the “sure and certain.”

The early-mid section of the album is particularly atmospheric, with the keyboard-backed “It Matters” and the bass-heavy “Pretty Grids.”  These transition into the experimental track “Pass The Baby,” which bears a mellow and haunting tune as it slowly builds up to the 2.5-minute mark.  There, its extended instrumental outro begins, softening until 4 minutes into the song, where heavy, grungy guitar carries it to its end.

As much praise as I can give to the first half of the album (and I can give a lot of it), the second half truly establishes the greatness of Integrity Blues.  The angry and defiant “Through” is extremely catchy with a strong guitar riff that draws you in, on top of scathing lyrics like, “Keep in mind there’s a big, big difference / Between letting go and running away.”

On the lighter side are “You Are Free” and “The End Is Beautiful,” encouraging and optimistic songs that are powerfully liberating.  The former is an anthemic song that examines the pain and struggles of life but looks to work past it all and grab life by the horns.  It may sound cliché or trite in concept, but between the poignant keyboard in the pre-choruses to the freeing optimism as Adkins reflects, “I think we’ve paid enough,” it’s executed flawlessly.  “The End Is Beautiful” is a keyboard-backed ballad about healing and moving forward following the downfall of a relationship, examining a mutual respect and happiness between both parties afterward with an emotional repetition of the line “It doesn’t have to hurt anymore” during the choruses.

Though the band works extremely well working in new territory with relatively standard instruments, one of the most interesting and compelling things on the album is their use of brass, woodwind, and strings in the last two tracks on the album.  The title track, driven primarily by Adkins’ echoed vocals but with a backing of nothing but strings and brass, is reserved and thoughtful, yet extremely effective.  Its stripped-down nature creates a mental image of Adkins standing alone in a spotlight, belting out the driving concept of the album, encouraging you to take a stand, to keep changing, to work to live life as “a person in-progress,” as Adkins said in this note about the album.

But as any Jimmy Eat World fan knows, the closing track of the album is always one of the most compelling things to examine, like with the sixteen-minute “Goodbye Sky Harbor” or the introspective “23.”  The band excels at creating the most ambitious and emotional (and typically the lengthiest) songs with which to close out albums, and Integrity Blue’s closer, “Pol Roger,” proves that they haven’t lost their touch in the slightest.  The nearly seven-minute track is bursting with energy and emotion to perfectly close off the vibrance of Integrity Blues, resulting in absolute musical magic.  The soft verses of the song contain some of the album’s most effective lyrics, like the lines, “Are you alone like me? / Alone, but not lonely.”  The choruses are a perfect contrast to the soft nature of the verses as they burst with emotion.  Here, the whole band gives its all, from the pounding drum rhythm to the perfectly harmonized vocals, particularly in the final lines wherein the vocals climb to sing, “Love don’t come to you / who knew / it just was there, always.”  After the final chorus, soft vocalizations fade out to the sound of horn and oboe as the song closes.

All of these elements combined make “Pol Roger” one of, if not the most powerful album-closer the band has ever had.  That may be a controversial statement, but the song moves me in a way that none other has for quite some time.  I applaud the band for putting everything they had into it, and I want to give proper recognition to that.

I couldn’t say that I’m in love with all of Integrity Blues’s eleven tracks, but the ones that didn’t immediately click have grown on me, and so many of the songs brought me to emotional extremes even just on the first listen and continue to do so as I listen through the album again and again.

In my mind, I keep absentmindedly looking back and comparing it to Jimmy Eat World’s previous works, like how the free-flying vigor and hope behind the album reminds of Futures at times.  But even if comparisons are natural, I realize that that’s not what this album is and I don’t want to box it into that.  It’s not just a rehash of their old albums or even an attempt to do so.  If I had forgotten why Jimmy Eat World was one of my favorite bands, Integrity Blues completely removed all of my doubt; it’s every bit the future of Jimmy Eat World, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

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