Seven albums into its career, Jimmy Eat World has developed a formula: driving rhythms, with occasional syncopation; crystalline, clanging guitars; and impassioned lyrics and vocals that frequently raise songs to anthem level without resorting to teenage pop-punk cliches.
Jimmy Eat World’s seventh album, “Damage,” is a breakup album that hews close to the band’s successful formula, and while Jim Adkins and company again tackle emotionally sensitive themes, they avoid the tired cheese that has befallen many of their peers. This is an adult album about adult issues, but shot through with youthful energy.
The heavy emotional vibe notwithstanding, the album is not a downer, which is evident from the get-go with “Appreciation.” The song boasts chugging verses, a slowdown on the choruses, shimmering guitars and sharply delivered drums. It’s a bit of a return to the epic sound of 2004’s “Futures.”
The title track follows, and has a breezy, slightly rootsy sound that the band explored on 2010’s “Invented.” “I want someone who lives up to this grandeur in my head,” Adkins sings, slowly easing us into the relationship-y vibe that permeates the album. “Book Of Love” is another track that explores the band’s rootsier side, but a spiky guitar cuts through the jangle on the chorus. “The book of love is fiction, written by the lonely,” Adkins sings over an Arcade Fire-like rhythm.
“I Will Steal You Back” is the first single, and wisely so. It follows closely the Jimmy Eat World blueprint. It’s nothing new, but even rehashed Jimmy Eat World somehow sounds fresh thanks to clever arrangements and bustling but well-organized energy.
“Please Say No” is another high point, an understated ballad that grows more pained and pleading as it goes on. Adkins has come to terms with the end of the relationship, but admits, “But me with you is who I think I’ll always be.” “How’d You Have Me” is an upbeat about-face, with a two-handed hi-hat pattern and a throbbing chorus. For the first time, the storyteller turns bitter, asking, “How did you have me/ And I only got you?”
“No, Never” is a bit of a departure, bravely delving into some elements of modern radio pop most straight rock groups avoid. It works, because the Jimmy Eat World stamp remains, thanks to big, anthemic choruses. The theme is ignorance is bliss: “We had a good thing/ But you’re better off not asking how,” Adkins advises, somewhat cryptically, “because there are some things you should never have known about.”
“Byebeyelove” is simple and sludgy, but it gets the point across nicely. Album closer “You Were Good” is another simple effort, something to be commended in a band with a knack for stop-start patterns and layering. Distant acoustic guitars and slightly muffled vocals create wistful atmospherics, as Adkins admits he is still in love but has decided to drink away the pain.
The breakup album has been done to death, to varied degrees of success. Jimmy Eat World has made a living from taking potentially clichéd musical elements and themes and making them sound fresh, and “Damage” follows in that line. Some of the songs are deceptively simple, while others are complicated if you take the time to analyze them. But that’s not the purpose of this music. These songs have a universal appeal, and while it’s natural to grow out of bands that helped get you through your high school drama, there’s something about this band that makes us want to take them with us as we grow older. Why? Maybe Adkins said it best on the “Futures” track “Kill”: “Sorry, but I can’t just go turn off how I feel.”