If you’re a fan of ‘90s emo, from those days back before MySpace made it a dirty word, the name Jimmy Eat World might mean something different to you than it would to most music fans. Depending on who you ask, they were either the band behind huge hits like “The Middle,” “Sweetness,” and “Pain,” or the band who gave us 2001’s earnest, stylistically diverse, and surprisingly inventive Clarity. Now, Jimmy’s hits were kind of killed by virtue of sheer overexposure to me, but I still really enjoy them circa Clarity (“Watch the Fireworks,” man) even though I kind of jump off the bus with them afterwards.
It turns out that their new album sits at a point somewhere in between Clarity’s earnestness and experimentalism and their slick radio hits. There are, after all, a good amount of curveballs here. The acoustic sing-along “You Were Good,” the funk-verse, rock-chorus combo of “No, Never,” and “Book of Love,” which fuses folk guitar and mandolin with a Motown beat and as a result becomes one of the best songs here (you’ll have a great time wallowing in your own misery!) all deviate from this band’s formula significantly, and “Lean” combines jangle pop – a genre a little closer to home for this band – with some decidedly un-Jimmy electronics.
And as for that earnestness, part of me thinks that the slick production compromises that a little. While the jittery “Damaged” sounds like peak-era Jimmy with a little bit of spitshine, and while “How’d You Have Me’s” high-budget production lends its anthemic refrain (to contrast its rollicking verses, of course) pretty nicely and actually makes it seem even more convincingly anthemic, sometimes they get so slick that they forget what they’re good at. I mean, the aforementioned “Watch the Fireworks” operated on sheer chutzpah, and a song like “Byebyebye” or “Please Say No” could really benefit from some chutzpah.
And hey, I’m willing to concede that those were my two least favorite songs here in the first place: “Byebyebye’s” refrain just wasn’t as cathartic as it wanted to be, while there was a certain insincerity about “Please Say No” that sort of bothered me and is almost painfully at odds with the old-school emo aesthetic. And as someone who really likes the old-school emo aesthetic (seriously, judging emo by Hawthorne Heights or Panic at the Disco is like judging jazz by Kenny G), this gets on my nerves. But even “I Will Steal You Back,” a high-energy gate-crasher, would’ve crashed more gates with a more raw production job.
Still, it’s some good stuff overall, and it’s nice to see this band is capable of recovering from their radio hits, which I found listenable but quite MOR compared to what they had done before. I’d certainly recommend checking out Clarity before this, and you do in some ways have to accept that the band has changed since that album (although I’d be the first to admit that I have trouble with that), but while the slick production occasionally works against it, it’s overall diverse and emotional enough to be well worth your time. This band’s name is still utterly ridiculous, though.