Review Summary: Back to the basics.
Most fans already know what to expect with the release of each new Jimmy Eat World album. Sure, the band tweaks their formula a little each time, but fans can always rely on a batch of emotional and uplifting alt-rock tracks to scratch their JEW itch. With their newest album Damage
the band ditches the creative direction of Invented
and just goes back to the basics. The album is, quite simply, JEW being JEW. While this might seem like an obvious statement, there’s a lot of truth behind it. It doesn’t set out to be the next big thing, it’s just Jim Adkins and his heartfelt vocals sung over simple, but beautiful rock tunes. In a way, it’s a culmination of everything the band has done over the last two decades. It doesn’t sound like any of their albums in particular, but bits and pieces sound like they could be borrowed from the band’s entire discography. It actually makes for quite the refreshing listen as there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy this time around.
Upon hearing the opening track ‘Appreciation’ one thing becomes apparent -the guitars are back. Adkins uses them to reel the listener in before delivering one of the better performances of his career. While Invented
focused on the softer, more experimental side of JEW, Damage finds the band returning to the sound they developed on the highly acclaimed Bleed American
or the often underappreciated Chase This Light.
Although the album contains many slow burners, most of them are surrounded by tasteful guitars. ‘I Will Steal You Back’ is a track that takes its time, but due to some crunchy guitar-work and Adkins' top-notch performance, it manages to have quite the impact despite its mid tempo pace. ‘No, Never’ is no different, as it slowly builds up to a big sing-a-long chorus which is surrounded by top-notch instrumentation.
With every JEW album there seems to be a track that really hits home with its audience. The poignant album closer ‘You Were Good’ is likely to be one of those tracks as it’s one the band’s most effective ballads in years as Adkins spills raw emotion over an acoustic guitar. Although everybody may not interpret the lyrics the same way, to me the stripped-down number is about how short life is, and a reminder to appreciate what you have when you have it. One moment you’re wrapped up in something beautiful and the next it’s gone. It’s a fantastic way to close the album and stands proud as one of the most impacting songs the band has written in years. It’s also a testament that JEW doesn’t have to inject their music with the most potent lyrics they can muster, sometimes simple is okay, and even more effective for that matter.
Not every track works so well , however, as some are just lacking that special something that’s usually present in the band’s music. ‘Damage’ seems like a solid and catchy track at first, but it’s so over simplistic that it loses much of its magic after repeated listens. The following songs ‘Lean’ and ‘Book of Love’ aren’t necessarily bad, but are underwhelming when compared to the album as a whole. Some may think ‘Byebyelove’ fits into this category, but at least it has the creativity to set it apart from the other tracks. However, there are more than enough exciting moments to make up for the boring ones. ‘Please Say No’ is another hard-hitting ballad much like the album closer that is highlighted by some of the most meaningful lyrics on the album and the energetic ’How’d You Have Me’ sounds like something that could have been on Bleed American
with its vintage JEW vibe.
While some may think Damage
is a safe record, it feels more like a return to form for the band. Jim Adkins’ vocals are as sharp as ever, the guitars make a triumphant return, and there’s a healthy mix of fast and slow. It may not surpass their best work but people shouldn’t expect it to. It’s another collection of upbeat, heartfelt songs by the band that continues to prove they’re incapable of making a bad record. But perhaps more importantly, it proves they don’t have to push the envelope for the genre or make another magnum-opus like Futures
to make an impact on the listener.