As 2013 has seen excellent releases from the likes of emo acts such as Senses Fail, it’s perhaps time to dust off the best album of another 2000s emo mainstay, Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American. Or, it would be if the Mesa, Arizona foursome hadn’t released their best album since the one that produced alt rock radio classics like The Middle. Indeed, Jimmy Eat World’s 2013 record, Damage, doesn’t contain a radio single that’s as obviously catchy as The Middle or even some of Bleed American’s deep cuts. Instead, Damage, produced by frequent Queens Of The Stone Age collaborator Alain Johannes, combines songs about breakups with bleeding-heart riffs to great effect. It’s an album that comes from an older, more mature band than the Jimmy Eat World that yearningly whined on Bleed American, one that has refined their melodic craft.
Early on, the most notable track on Damage is the title track, a simple, relatable breakup song that impressively displays the band’s penchant for great melody, showing that the label “pop punk” doesn’t suffice in describing Jimmy Eat World: instead, they’re a pop band not afraid to put their guitars to good use. From opener Appreciation to the title track, Damage’s second track, you see the band’s ability to write a rollicking rocker and a gorgeous strummer, respectively, with lead vocalist and guitarist Jim Adkins sounding crisper than ever over great guitar work either way.
Damage really kicks into gear with Lean, which starts with a Bruce Springsteen-like Americana riff and weaves muted, harmonized vocals with distorted guitars in its undeniably catchy, emotive chorus. Perhaps diehard Jimmy Eat World fans will complain that Damage isn’t brutal enough, especially as Lean transitions into the acoustic Book Of Love, a track so soft you could almost mistake it for, say, something by Okkervil River. While those concerns among diehards might be temporarily muted by standard Jimmy Eat World lead single I Will Steal You Back, Damage’s title track, Book Of Love, and especially Please Say No all expose a softer sensitive side (as opposed to a screaming sensitive side) to Adkins and Jimmy Eat World, as Please Say No’s contradictory main plea involves a lover telling his girl to say “no” after begging her to take him where nobody will know their names or faces, a timeless and endlessly relatable topic (even if it was done lightyears better in Wolf Parade’s I’ll Believe In Anything).
The closest thing to a catchy radio hit on Damage is How’d You Have Me, which still isn’t very close to a catchy radio hit, but likely for the better; its singalong chorus would only be ruined by tireless spins on US alt rock radio. It’s more likely, in fact, that Damage’s softer songs would fit better on adult contemporary radio. For some, Jimmy Eat World, in all of their Springsteen-ian existential splendour, have always been inextricably linked with the radio and with being blasted in cars, as their songs resemble variations on Born To Run for the “me” generation. Perhaps this is a result of the condescending listener who simply associates their music with visceral feelings of emotional excitement; perhaps this is simply because, as people found alternative ways of listening to music in the early 2000s, they only listened to the radio in their cars, and The Middle and the rest of Bleed American was played so goddamn much on it.
But the relatively insular Damage is not a “blast it in the car” album. It’s a series of vignettes and laments that show a promising, poppier side to Jimmy Eat World, one that still surely doesn’t sacrifice guitars. The sentimentality of the penultimate track, Byebyelove, contains a title taken from a song by The Cars, a band trying to achieve the exact opposite of what Jimmy Eat World do achieve on Damage. Byebyelove is not happy sounding pop that clouds a depressing topic, but rather a song that takes the spirit of the ’90s and early 2000s, minimal, stomping, distorted guitar crescendos and all, into 2013. My Bloody Valentine couldn’t have picked a better time to come back, as bands like Jimmy Eat World are showing a tremendous debt to them, both in guitar work and in pure emotion, pure libido, and pure heartbreak.
On Damage, Jimmy Eat World show emotion, but with the same restraint as a band like My Bloody Valentine, besides the fact that the two bands represent different sub-genres of rock. Jimmy Eat World’s newfound restraint is best exemplified by closer You Were Good, which is not a fist-pumper to send everybody to the exits riled up, but rather a track that simultaneously uses lo-fi acoustic guitars and drones to dream-like effect, creating a stunning closer to an album by a band that is more than ever not afraid to expose their own insecurities.