Review Summary: The heart is hard to find.
Considering that their self-titled debut came out nearly two decades ago, it's not surprising that Jimmy Eat World have some aspects of their sound down to a science. Their formula of simple, exuberant pop/rock choruses and pedestrian but nearly universal lyrics has worked well, and while there have been tweaks over the years, there really hasn't been a reason to change anything drastically. But Damage
represents a change that few fans could have expected -- a JEW album that isn't overflowing with emotion.
Most of that emotion is pooled up in album opener "Appreciation." There's nothing about it that longtime fans couldn't see coming from a mile away (aside from its relatively somber mood for a first track), but the plucky verses and the delicate yet massive chorus leave the best kind of first impression -- it's the kind of chorus that doesn't get old despite making up about 60% of the song. Jim Adkins's cries of "Strange we come to find ourselves not knowing we're lost" seem to set the stage for an album of palatably deep thoughts about love and relationships, much like most of this band's work.
But something goes wrong. The choruses fall flat. The lyrics cross the line from universally relatable to trite ("Say anything but no, and I'll go, I'll go, I'll go" in "Please Say No, for instance). Songs zip by, most of them pleasant and inoffensive, but none of them as grabbing. Nothing steals attention like "Mixtape" and "Cut," from Invented
, and no choruses induce manic grins and toe-tapping like "Sweetness" from Bleed American
. Oh, sure, "I Will Steal You Back" has just enough grit and energy to deserve a little radio play, and "No, Never" has a catchy chorus fueled by some uncharacteristically fuzzy guitars.
But then there's "Lean" and "How'd You Have Me," both extremely forgettable, and "Please Say No," which feels like an eternity despite running under 5 minutes. All of the albums' failures, though, pale in comparison to the abysmal "Byebyelove," in which the title is repeated ad nauseum at an excruciatingly slow tempo, with appropriately dull droning guitar melodies and the most elementary background vocals for "flavor."
Aside from that black mark on their record, though, Jimmy Eat World's worst work is still listenable, if only begrudgingly so. And there's a good chance that an album about breakups by a man closing in on 40 years of age is lost on this 20-something who's temporally closer to the debut of Bleed American
and its youthful energy than the age Adkins seems to be targeting. But then again, being universally relatable was something JEW seemed to pride itself on; Damage
finds themselves forgetting that charisma means nothing when it's buried by mediocre songwriting. JEW can write a Top 40 single in their sleep -- granted. But that doesn't mean I'm thrilled when this album has song after song that sounds only half-awake.