Jimmy Eat World

Damage

Written by: TL on 13/07/2013 12:37:41

If emo is (was?) a wave, then Jimmy Eat World is the band that spread wings and took flight from its very pinnacle, soaring to their own heights while the movement diluted beneath them. Composing three 9-worthy albums in a row with 99's "Clarity", 01's "Bleed American" and 04's "Futures" (not to mention the following EP "Stay On My Side Tonight" or 2011's "Invented"), the Mesa, Arizona quartet has shown uncanny coherency and consistency in tip-toeing the line between emo-rock and radio-rock, always imbuing their songs and albums with a vibrant spirit which has put them head and shoulders above the legions of bands that have referenced them as influences. Plainly, if you ask me "Who is the best band in the world", Jimmy Eat World would be in the ensuing conversation, which is probably why it's been such a struggle for me to embrace that their eigth studio album "Damage" is in my opinion the hardest JEW album to listen to yet.

Much was made of the band's choice to work with famed Queens Of The Stone Age collaborator Alain Johannes, falling in with the current 'back-to-analog' trend, and recording the various elements partly to tape in various rooms of the producer's LA residence. The result is that while I'm used to ambiance - used to Jimmy Eat World's songs always sounding like stars are weeping, fireworks are exploding and church bells are ringing triumphantly just at the edge of the audible soundscape - "Damage" is just a fuzzy rock record, and as trendy as that may read in 2013, I think it takes some getting used to. The trick however, as I think I've come to understand, is addition by subtraction. It's like taking some Hollywood romance and removing all the lights and filters until you're left with an intense close-up of a break-up story that's as ugly, complex, definitive and devastating as such are in real life.

Most break-up music, including JEW's early work, is written from an early twenties angle, when one's romantic failures are gloriously painful, yet short of perspective and blessed with the distant promise of second chances. "Damage" does away with all such wide-eyedness. Instead it deals with the break-up from the point of view of someone who's come further in life, someone for whom the sundering of a long relationship is a crushing personal failure - a tangled mess that you can't see a way out of, which only makes you bitter and weary, thinking of the lenght of your life that seems wasted and questioning if you blew your last chance at getting things right.

The opening riff of "Appreciation" is thus deceptively catchy and straight-forward, but the album's thematic frustration is apparent as soon as front man Jim Adkins starts building up lyrics about losing yourself and your love over time. It's followed by album highlight and title track "Damage", which winds an irresistably poppy tune around back and forth considerations over whether you can pull things together or it's time to just give up, and which has an elegant little drop in beat in the bridge section. The album proceeds, wrapping hypnotisingly naive little melodies around increasingly frustrating lyrics, as "Book Of Love" gets cynical, proclaiming "The book of love is fiction", "So maybe we should plan then, of who will go and who will stay, and when" and finally "I've been alone, just never known it".

Recalling "Futures" highlight "Pain", leading single "I Will Steal You Back" reverses the formula, lending a darker, harder tone to its namesake proclamation in a way that leaves no doubt as to whether it is a statement of pure denial, and leading up to a vintage JEW mini-solo that momentarily grasps the listener's heart in a chokehold. As if exhausted, its futile self-deception gives way to the crumbling, pleading slow-burn of "Please Say No", imbuing the classic 'should I stay or should I go' dilemma with monumental weight, at the feet of a secret lover that provided a seductive distraction at the crucial moment of a prior relationship's unravelling.

Eventually the pent-up desperation finds a vent through the self-righteous anger of "How'd You Have Me", while the remaining three songs all write closing chapters to the love story, that ache so bad you're going to want to turn them off. And that's the strength and the essence of "Damage" I think. Jimmy Eat World show that they can write their traditional arena/radio-friendly riffs and melodies almost at the casual flick of a wrist, but at the same time, they can't do it without wallowing in romantic tragedy, and doing so ever more stubbornly and exhaustingly. The result is that if you came for the best riffs or most climactic progressions of the band's career, "Damage" will sorely disappoint you, because rather the record is the bare bones of what the band has always done well, dressed in the increasingly poignant and traumatic stories conjured up by Adkins' lyrics. It is not a revolution in soundscaping or composition, it is merely the refinement of an extraordinarily masterful band, providing background to the evermore heartwrenching story-telling of their frontman.

Download: Damage, Appreciation, I Will Steal You Back, Book Of Love, How'd You Have Me
For The Fans Of: Saves The Day, Texas Is The Reason, Motion City Soundtrack, The Gaslight Anthem, The Early November
Listen: facebook.com/jimmyeatworld

Release Date 11.06.2013
RCA / Exotic Location

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