I'm about to tell a boring story, but please bear with me: it will be relevant, I promise. Anyway, my husband and I went to Costco with the kids this weekend, and it was pretty much a non-event until we got to the candy section next to the checkout, where a gentleman was handing out teensy-weensy 3 Musketeers bars. Then, of course, both children clamored for them like tiny, chocolate-crazed, ambidextrous squids, and I remember thinking how ridiculous it was to just make the candy smaller and then announce it as if it were truly a new product (naturally, I was smuggling my spawn as much chocolate as I could legitimately grab under the gentleman's watchful eye as I thought this, for fear the children would chew my arms off otherwise). Which is neither here nor there, really, except for the fact that when I saw this record in the line-up of new releases I suddenly realized that I've fallen prey to a different version of the same consumerism I witnessed at Costco, especially since starting this blog: nowadays, I listen to so much new music so often that it's hard to give "old" bands who don't seem to have continued cultural relevance much of a chance (package my emo/pop/alternative differently, please!). So, although my initial impulse was to pass this album by, I decided to quit being a jerk and just listen already.
Of course, just deciding to listen to this album couldn't clear my biggest hurdle, which was the fact that despite recognizing the name "Jimmy Eat World" and knowing that the group had at least one big radio hit awhile ago, I had no idea what it was. This was even more horrifying for me when I looked at Wikipedia and discovered that the name of their big song, 2001's "The Middle", seemed absolutely foreign. Then, however, as soon as I heard the track, it all came back: while the song never bothered me, it also never attracted me enough for me to the learn the words, and I always just kind of lumped the band with the pool of other softcore punk/emo groups for which Green Day paved the way (well, I don't know if that's musically accurate, but that's always how it happened in my head). ANYWAY, I know I'm getting way off track here, especially since what I'm really trying to convey is that I was pleasantly surprised by Jimmy Eat World's eighth album (this one), and by the maturity I found in both interviews I read with front man Jim Atkins (with Absolute Punk and Rocking.gr). So while both are a decent read if you've kept up with this band more than I have and want more details of how this record differs from their others, I'm gonna limit myself to a few relevant quotes. First, this IS a break-up album, which I strongly suspected, although it's not first-person, since Atkins is married. Or as he elaborates for Absolute Punk, "I was looking for a lyrical theme to work from I decided to go with
love songs as this basic, basic starting point. Exploring that, I
realized the types of love songs I like are essentially the ones that
deal more with adversity and emotional injury and heartbreak, the
complexities and the difficult parts of relationships, not the happy
parts. That’s a more interesting story to me, and without a story I
don’t have a song." And secondly, the band appears to have a pretty laid-back attitude regarding the business side of the biz, or as Atkins tells to Rocking.gr, "You have to be proud of your work. We weren’t really worried about
records deals and things like that. Since we started the band, I think
we always had it in the back of our minds that we would end up releasing
our own records, by ourselves, so we feel lucky that we are able to
have people that will do it for us." And while these snippets may seem unrelated and random, they contributed to my general goodwill for the band, since you really have to root for guys who plan on failure but chug forward nonetheless.
Whew! So let's get to the tunes. Luckily for me, describing the music on this record is less complex than describing my reaction to seeing the album, since it's what I would call pure, uncomplicated pop. Or in other words, think of another Jimmy Eat World track you may know, pare it down to its simplest elements, add the love song vibe, and you can pretty much imagine what this record sounds like. For instance, title track "Damage" begins with the ol' guitar and drums and then becomes slightly more nostalgic and soaring near the chorus, but never froths itself into stadium-anthem pomp ("I hate the way I feel but I don't think I can change/I just breathe through each day"), and the slow-paced "Please Say No" opens with a lick of guitar and a long pause to let the reverb sing before Atkins, and pads its choruses with airy background vocals ("But I could read you plain, you want a different life/Someday, hell, you might ruin mine"). Finally, "No, Never" revs up with some echoing drums and a sprinkling of guitar before easing into a slightly-edgier but still pleasant chorus ("I'd be lying if I told you it was just a kiss/I'd be lying if I said there wasn't more to it"). See, I told you that would be easy!
Okay, so I already mentioned that I was pleasantly surprised by this album, and that's where my opinion remains. In general, the songs are decent, even if none of them pop as obvious singles, and the fact that the quieter tracks often demand more attention than the louder ones demonstrates the fact that this band seems to be maturing their music at the same rate that they themselves get older (I may be the only person that's bothered by bands' pathetic desperation to stay young, but I am. put on some g-d pants, Madonna!). Anyway, if you like earnest, catchy, musically-uncomplicated breakup fare, this is probably the album for you. And hey, if you don't, at least these guys aren't assholes. That counts for something, right???