It’s been 12 whole years since Jimmy Eat World broke into the mainstream with Bleed American (i.e. the album formally known as Bleed American), and much in the music world has changed. Where there was once room for a certain brand of Pop-emo-core in the culture, popular music has taken a sharp left turn into derpy roots-rock and an amorphous sludge of other new sub-genres. Jimmy Eat World don’t want to hear that — because why change what still basically works? Indeed, like straight out of a time capsule, here they come, sounding — well, not better than ever. Actually, they sound very much the same… only sadder, with slightly weaker songs.
Jimmy Eat World has made a career of mixing somewhat juvenile yet relatable angst with a particularly engaging brand of hook-filled pop-rock. Getting their first semi-big break with 1999’s Clarity, the band was positioned for modest, if not potentially “cult” level, status — beloved, but maybe forever skirting the edges of rock radio. Then, in 2001, Bleed American happened. Armed to the teeth with a few of the best mainstream hits of its day (“The Middle”, “A Praise Chorus”), they were able to transcend the indie-circuit — giant platinum records waving in their hands. But Clarity is by far their best, my ex-girlfriend used to say… To which I’d reply, “Nay” — I’ll take the album with the better songs (slightly controversial opinion) and much less interesting production values, thank you very much.
Fast-forward to the present, and Jimmy Eat World’s latest LP, Damage, attempts to hit the same marks as their golden period (or really any other period) — except set against the backdrop of a despondent and somewhat tiresome relationship break. With blunt, discerning lyrics, frontman Jim Atkins is able to make an interesting go of the concept, but ends up suffocating under the weight of a fairly rote collection of songs — at least by their standards. And while it is true that the sweet isn’t quite as sweet without the sour, there surely isn’t a “Sweetness” on this disc. It’s like tier-two Jimmy Eat World on a bender, and really, you could do far worse.
Kicking the LP off in a one-two punch of nostalgia, “Appreciation” and “Damage” are absolutely solid entries into the Jimmy Eat World canon. Though a bit underwhelming on first listen, Atkins’ gift for pop hooks clearly aren’t lost on him. “I hate the way I feel / But I don’t think I can change / I just breathe through each day,” he sings on the latter track — sending us into our own mental cocoons of hopelessness, before warming our hearts with the hook. Elsewhere, the excellent “Book of Love” stands as the definitive poster-child of the record, finding that sweet balance between provocative lyrical imagery — “The book of love is fiction / Written by the loneliest to sing / thinking they’re doing the best / Learning things they should never forget / Until the end” — and a truly refined dose of songwriting.
The rest of the album hits its beats (the solid “No, Never”, the mid-tempo “Byebyelove”), but the overall lack of variety ends up stagnating more than it inspires. Jimmy Eat world’s best material is able to surpass any perceived adolescent hang-ups they so often purvey, but they’re just much less consistent here. Respectable in execution, but not as recommendable compared as some of their previous works, Damage is nevertheless a serviceable effort from a still very talented band.