After more than two decades as a band and with eight studio albums under their belt, it would have been easy for Jimmy Eat World to stick to what they know best. Yet rather than going straight from the road to the studio after touring 2013’s Damage – as well as a few additional shows in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Futures – the Arizona quartet took a clean break and had a whole year off from playing together.
While this may not sound like an overly drastic step, for Jimmy Eat World it was a change from the norm. It was a decision that took them out of the album-tour-album cycle comfort zone that is easy to fall into. Instead, frontman Jim Adkins used the time to play shows and record as a solo artist, while also questioning whether there was a need for a ninth studio LP from Jimmy Eat World. He was not content with just settling for the status quo.
It is that self-reflection and desire to constantly do better that forms the backbone of the band’s latest effort, Integrity Blues. “It is about throwing away your default responses to life, accept life on the terms of life and become willing to accept the best any of us have is to be in a state of progress,” Adkins said, in a letter to announce the record. And from the off, it is clear the band have pushed themselves creatively this time around.
Opener You With Me begins with a simply strummed guitar and falsetto harmonies, before the track properly kicks into gear with a rumbling drum beat and driving hook. “What makes are love so hard to be?/ Is it you or is that you with me?” sings Adkins, on a chorus that is both infectious and refreshingly carefree. It certainly sounds like the result of a band attacking their craft with renewed energy and enthusiasm.
Previously released single Sure And Certain follows hotly on the heels of the opener and feels more like a retread of the band’s past glories, with a gritty guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on their 2001 breakthrough record, Bleed American. That said, it still contains another tightly constructed, sing-a-long pop chorus, while Get Right goes even darker thanks to its spiky hook and Adkins’ pained vocals.
Although these blasts from the past are well executed, it is elsewhere that Integrity Blues really shines. It Matters sees Jimmy Eat World shed the guitars for the most part in favour of a wondering piano melody as Adkins delivers a poignant chorus (“Nothing new to see/ saying what you mean/ when you pulled away”), before Pretty Grids demonstrates just how slick this version of the band sounds under producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83 and Paramore).
In fact, Meldal-Johnsen’s influence becomes more pronounced as the album continues, no more so than on the real left-field moment, Pass The Baby. The track begins slowly with a dramatic, electronic beat and hushed vocals, which then give way to a final burst of explosive, head-banging rock. As surprises go, it’s a pretty good one and provides a nice contrast to the more melodic tracks, such as the straightforward anthem You Are Free.
Not everything they attempt comes off – The End Is Beautiful is a harmless and cloying ballad and Through comes across as Jimmy Eat World by numbers – but for the most part Integrity Blues is an intriguing and varied entry into the band’s back catalogue. Nothing emphasises this more than the title track, which is an atmospheric turn that certainly leaves a mark. Ultimately, it is this ambition that ensures Jimmy Eat World remain as relevant as ever.