Sound — 7
So, I didn't exactly get into Jimmy Eat World through my guitar playing. Long before I played guitar, I played "NHL 2003," an ice hockey video game released in 2002. Jimmy Eat World's "Sweetness" played each time the game started up. Everything about the song is catchy (the drums, the guitar, the vocals). The song's catchiness (and of course, the childhood connection) endeared it to me for good. Jimmy Eat World's new album retains much of these characteristics but takes a different path to getting there.
For some context, "Sweetness" was one of the singles off Jimmy Eat World's platinum-selling 2001 album "Bleed American." Listening back to it now years later, the album's ferocity that jumps out at me. If you combine Jim Adkins's ability to write catchy tunes with the hard rock, balls out approach of "Bleed American," it's easy to see how Jimmy Eat World was once one of America's most popular bands.
Unfortunately, since the release of "Bleed American," Jimmy Eat World has steadily gotten less popular. Comparing this new album to "Bleed American," the differences are clear. The band trends much more toward ballads on this album. In fact, there isn't really much of a hard rock edge to it at all.
Ironically, the heaviest part of this album doesn't even feel like rock; it actually sounds like metal. At the end of the very spacy song "Pass the Baby," the band jams on a heavy and nasty metal riff. This small section of the song is a reminder of what could have been. Jimmy Eat World is certainly a better rock band than metal band. But the guitar tone, the raw power, and the heaviness show that Jimmy Eat World could do more than above average soft ballads.
So if some ballads are what we've got to work with, the question is how good are they? The answer: it depends what you're looking for. If it's great guitar work you want, you will be disappointed. It's very pleasing to the ear, but very light on riffs or anything other than power chords and bar chords.
If it's catchy lyrics and emotional melodies you seek, then you may be pleasantly surprised. Maybe it's a result of the simplistic guitar work, but the music is very easy to get into. It doesn't take much brain power to understand what's going on and this can be very pleasant. This music could easily be played in department stores or at restaurants.
Sometimes, the music ventures into a hazy, dream pop state where it can be easy to get lost. The best example of this is the album's title track. The beginning of "Pass the Baby" is also very hazy, which makes it all the more surprising when that crushing metal riff comes in toward the end.
Lyrics — 9
Another perspective on the sound is that the band crafts it to make room for Jim Adkins's voice, which is arguably the album's main draw. His voice hasn't changed a bit since the early 2000s; it has remarkable durability.
His lyric writing prowess has similar durability. Even a decade later, Jim Adkins knows how to spin different tales about familiar themes like life, love, and loss. His words are simple, easy to hear, and easy to understand. This doesn't make the lyrics any less poignant. To the contrary, when a lyricist addresses topics that have been covered far too much by the rest of the world, it is truly remarkable when he can stand out.
Overall Impression — 7
This album will be sure to please fans who have stuck with Jimmy Eat World through the years. In fact, they may call this the band's best release in a while. Even so, this album is merely good, not great and it probably won't be remembered past this current tour.
One reason is that there aren't any standout songs. Yeah, Jim Adkins's lyrical acumen is still there but, it just doesn't seem like enough. The album has a couple of duds and a couple of good songs, but what's missing is a lead single, something to hook people.
The album's singles aren't even its best songs. The music videos for the album are dispersed among songs that are, all things considered, unremarkable. The most unique of the songs are randomly scattered throughout the album. For me, the best soft song was "It Matters," the best rock song was "Pretty Grids," and the best song overall was "You Are Free."
In all, I'm still looking forward to catching Jimmy Eat World on tour; they're in top shape and their performances haven't lost a step. But if I see them, I'm afraid it's because of that old video game and not because of this album.