Review Summary: A future memory.
Any time that I try to pinpoint Jimmy Eat World’s core essence
– or what has enabled them to hold my interest over the course of ten albums and twenty-five years – my answer typically comes back to the emotion behind their music. Their material is very catchy, sure, but that’s what wins over ears – not hearts. Some may shroud this effect in mystique by referencing the “it” factor when describing one of their favorite bands. Exactly what “it” is can change from person to person, but for me it’s an artist’s ability to write music that you can create memories to
. If I can recall exactly where I was and who I was with the first time I ever spun a record, that’s what separates it from the thousands of others that have passed through my ears. In a recent interview with NME
, frontman Jim Adkins described the band’s approach to making music in a way that neatly summarized my longstanding appreciation for their craft: “We’re not chasing anything, we’re not trying to present something that isn’t authentically what we’re into
…what we’re presenting is at least coming from a place of honesty.” It’s precisely for this reason that even my least favorite Jimmy Eat World records still hold at least some personal value to me and, moreover, it’s why my favorite albums of theirs are absolute classics.
So where does Surviving
land on that spectrum? Before I delve into that, it’s important to note that the band’s tenth full-length represents an interesting curve in their trajectory. Rather than riding the wave of critical success that was garnered by Integrity Blues
, here Jimmy Eat World opts for something less glazed and polished. Their last effort floated in on shimmering acoustics and soaring, ethereal vocals, but Surviving
cuts right to the chase with very down-to-earth electric chords and familiar, memorable song structures. With a group as renowned as Jimmy Eat World, there’s always a tradeoff to be had. Fans of the group’s most infectious pop-rock tunes might hail this as a “return to form”, while disciples of their moodier, atmospheric side (a la Futures
or Integrity Blues
) will inevitably see it as two steps backwards. It’s this kind of catch-22 that makes loyalty to their own
intentions so important, because there’s never going to be an all-in-one Jimmy Eat World record that will please team Clarity
, team Futures
, team Chase This Light
, and so on. To that tune, Surviving
is very much its own animal, and to pull a “sounds like” comparison would be a cop out. It may be stripped down, but it’s a Jimmy Eat World album through and through, and that means that if you spend enough time with it you’re almost certainly going to love it.
One of my favorite lines on the entire album comes courtesy of ‘Delivery’, and it feeds right into feelings of nostalgia: “I know I’m dreaming but it feels too good to stop, the picture in my head is always moving / We’re alone at sunset, there's snowfall in air - it’s only special once cause there’s an ending / And we realize we’re in a future memory.” Vivid lyrics like this have helped cement Jimmy Eat World as one of the best emo rock bands around for decades, and Surviving
offers no shortage of quotable gems. I couldn’t help but to immediately connect to this particular passage, because it’s how I feel about all Jimmy Eat World albums – every time I listen to one for the first time, I realize I’m "in a future memory” in the exact same sense that Adkins sings about; it’s this surreal still-frame where you don’t know specifically how, but that the moment is going to end up being important. As I play Surviving
on repeat over long drives throughout this Fall and Winter, the album and its lyrics will begin to stick to particular images, places, and people. That’s part of Jimmy Eat World’s magic – each album is its own snow globe with memories floating around inside of them. Surviving
is still very young, but it’s already gathering some flakes.
is a bit of a throwback. Two out of Jimmy Eat World’s last three albums (Invented
, Integrity Blues
) were very toned down, melodic, and beautiful. This time, the band took a different approach entirely: the tempo is faster – somewhere between Damage
and Chase This Light
– and gone are the otherworldly atmospheres and electronic frills that admittedly made Integrity Blues
a far prettier – and arguably superior – record. With that said, “pretty” doesn’t feel like the objective here: ‘Criminal Energy’ is as straightforward of a rock n’ roll track as they’ve ever recorded, ‘All The Way (Stay)’ features a classic emo-rock charm that could have fit in on Bleed American
, and ‘Love Never’ features one of the coolest guitar bends since ‘I Will Steal You Back.’ Surviving
’s contrast is very much intentional; Adkins stated prior to the album’s release that “on Integrity Blues
the philosophy was ‘more is more’ – for Surviving
, we sort of stripped away everything you don’t need.” This informs why much of the record sounds like unembellished framework; you have your guitars, drums, and vocal hooks – and the rest was sacrificed in order to maintain a certain level of rawness and simplicity. The production value lifts the aesthetics above the likes of Clarity
or Static Prevails
, but when held against the atmospheric glow of Futures
or Integrity Blues
, it admittedly sounds very by-the-books. There’s a different kind of charm that comes with that approach, but if you’re looking for a ‘23’ or ‘Pol Roger’, you’ll likely come up empty-handed.
isn’t without a few tricks up its sleeve, however. The saxophone solo on ‘All The Way’ is one of them, which comes courtesy of Fitz and the Tantrums' James King. ‘555’ is almost an Infinity On High
Fall Out Boy song – soulful, vocal-centric, a tad repetitive, and featuring some falsetto. It feels like the sort of song that Chase This Light
’s gleeful posturing hinted at, but that they’ve never really had the confidence to pull off until now. It’s not going to please everyone – in fact I’m quite sure of the opposite – but it’s nevertheless an interesting departure from the band’s staple sound. The biggest surprise of all comes in the final moments of the six minute closer ‘Congratulations’, where Jimmy Eat World basically transforms into a thrash metal band over the course of an epic, gritty, minute-long breakdown. It feels like an evolved version of ‘Pass the Baby’, which also featured a heavily distorted, Rage Against the Machine inspired outro. It’s easily the heaviest that Jimmy Eat World has ever sounded. Thus, for as consistently rewarding as the band’s trademark sound is, they prove that they can extend their reach into unfamiliar territory and still thrive.
The rest of Surviving
is composed of songs that pretty much fit the bill for what you might expect no-frills, memorable Jimmy to sound like. The opener/title track has one of the best sing-along choruses, and the band exercises admirable restraint in not allowing it to poke its head through until the second half of the song. ‘One Mil’ begins as a romantically-struck acoustic ballad that erupts into an anthem for the introverted: “You still there? If I look you’ll disappear – or worse you might want to talk” / “I’ve tried but I can waste one million chances before you’re gone, before I get your name.” It’s the kind of song that should become an instant classic live. ‘Diamond’ has a thoughtful urgency to it that helps to propel the album’s late-half momentum, and the wistful, penultimate ‘Recommit’ features the most breathtaking vocal inflection/melody here. Not all the songs on Surviving
offer major departures, and the record is better for it. Having a reliable foundation helps to steady the ship when they do decide to take bigger risks, while also proving that the band is indeed loyal to their own intentions. In other words, they don’t needlessly feign experimentation. Everything, again, comes from a place of honesty – and their authenticity can be felt throughout the core of Surviving
is something of a misleading title for Jimmy Eat World’s tenth full-length album, because the implication is that their head is barely above water; that they’re doing just enough to get by. This has never been a bare minimum
kind of band – they pour their heart into every album and that’s something that hasn’t changed since their debut hit shelves in 1994. A better title might have been Thriving
, because this record continues their remarkably consistent run and proves that they are still very much at, or at least near, the top of their game. The intentional scaling back of ambition in the studio might leave something to be desired from an atmospheric/aesthetic standpoint, but otherwise Jimmy Eat World continues to churn out superbly written, insanely memorable alt-rock like it’s effortless. Enjoy another round of memories, on them.