“Instead of writing about a problem, I wanted to write about a solution.” So says Jim Adkins, lead singer and guitarist for Jimmy Eat World when asked about their ninth and latest full-length album, Integrity Blues. For more than 20 years, Arizona’s power-pop-emo combo have married chunky chords with lyrical angst, soaring choruses with killer melodies. During a brief hiatus, the band went their separate ways with separate interests. Returning to the studio late last year with producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen, Adkins, guitarist Tom Linton, drummer Zach Lind and bassist Rick Burch (a lineup that’s remained unchanged since 1995) came out of the experience with a mature work that manages to retain the hooks and muscular bite of previous albums.
Meldal-Johnsen is the logical fit for producing the album, having worked as a producer and/or musician with both genre-benders like Beck, Air and Mars Volta in addition to more user friendly artists like Paramore and Tegan and Sara. The breadth of his experience allows him the opportunity find the right balance of soul-searching music for grown-ups while making it feel fresh and, dare I say it, commercially accessible.
Opening track “You With Me”, which begins with slow, back-and-forth strumming of reverb-drenched guitars, followed by an angelic chorus, makes a case for bloated self-importance, but the song soon gains traction with sure-footed, syncopated drumming and a traditional, heartfelt song structure (complete with the plot-twisting couplet “What makes our love so hard to be / Is it you or is that you with me?”). With the first single “Sure and Certain”, the power punk of earlier albums rears its head with a winning combination of jagged guitar riffs, a confident, chugging rhythm section, and scads of big, open melodies. Not to mention plenty of soul-searching: “Sure and certain / Wander ‘til we’re old / Lost and lurking / Wonder ‘til we’re old.”
With songs like “It Matters,” an undercurrent of foreboding is established with a low bed of noise that recalls Meldal-Johnsen collaborator Trent Reznor in David Fincher Soundtrack Mode, but the band seems to only tentatively embrace dissonance. The safety of earnest hooks seems too strong a pull. Or is it? “Pass the Baby” is the sound of a band “getting its weird on” (albeit a bit too self-consciously at first): sparse, claustrophobic beats and simmering keyboards ratchet up the tension before an uncharacteristically loose, fun metallic coda storms in and finishes things off.
Throughout Integrity Blues, Jimmy Eat World navigate through a variety of styles they’re comfortable revisiting and exploring further, whether it’s the swaggering punk/funk of “Get Right”, the simple, direct, euphoric pop of “You Are Free” or the breathtakingly eloquent “The End Is Beautiful”. The latter song combines an anthemic waltz tempo ballad with a wistful lyric about the mutual acceptance of breaking up. This is a band that may very well have treated the subject matter in a more petulant manner 20-odd years ago. But that was then.
Jimmy Eat World ends Integrity Blues with a stately, exquisite one-two punch: the hymn-like title track sounds more sonically unique than a majority of what preceded it, thanks to impassioned torch singing and a lovely quasi-orchestral arrangement (complete with surprising touches like pump organ), which leads nicely into the album closer, “Pol Roger”, a nearly seven-minute mid-tempo slow burn epic that ranks up there with the best material of their career. “Why spend more time in a lie if it goes on that way / Love don’t come to you, it was just there always?” As the song gently fades off, we’re reminded that this is a band that is growing up right along with us.