2016 may be known down the road as the year your favorite rock bands from the ’90s and 2000’s made a comeback (attempt). Groups such as Blink-182, Green Day, American Football and Sum 41 all released overdue albums, and while some of them were decent enough, others fell flat by way of either trying to sound like they used to or making such a radical change that they’re damn near unrecognizeable. For Jimmy Eat World, it’s not necessarily a comeback (their last record came in 2013), but depending on who you ask it could be. People will no doubt mention that the band’s last (and really only) hit “The Middle” came in 2003, and that’s fine. For a band like JEW, mainstream notoriety isn’t really suited for them. Their songs, ranging from twinkly emo to anthemic power pop, rely more on personal connection and relatability than global sing-a-alongs (though don’t tell Taylor Swift that). Their new record Integrity Blues sticks to the script for the most part, but is just different enough to stand out among the band’s other releases.
Producer Justin Meldal-Johnson lends his experienced hands to this album, and coming in you know you’re in for something new. Johnson, who has worked with M83, Nine Inch Nails and recently showed Paramore the wonders of new wave, adds an eclectic flair to JEW’s usual brooding indie rock. Perhaps no other song quite signifies this change like 5th track “Pass the Baby,” which starts off with stuttering bass lines before switching to electronic glitches and haunting guitar plucks, finishing with a bombastic post-rock-influenced outro. It’s the kind of song that may have longtime JEW fans scratching their heads a little bit, but after 8 albums can you really blame them for wanting to try something new?
Lyrically Integrity Blues finds itself exploring the usual JEW topics like uncertainty and love. The former shows itself the most on the title track. “I get lost and think/Lose myself to dreams,” singer Jim Adkins admits. “Yes, I got work to do.” The confession, that even at 40 years old Adkins still doesn’t have everything figured out, comes off as sincere and earnest, trademark JEW characteristics. “It Matters” and “You With Me” both tell the tale of a relationship on the rocks, and while we may never know the outcome, both the song’s soaring hooks make it seem as if they’ll figure it out one way or another.
Speaking of great hooks, lead single “Sure and Certain,” has one. The song deals with not being content with one’s life, and the chorus encapsulates that mindset perfectly. “Sure and certain/Wander til we’re old,” Adkins belts. “Lost and lurking/Wonder til we’re cold.” The song is eerily similar to another one of their tracks about making the most of life; Bleed American’s “A Praise Chorus,” both in lyrical content and their anthemic hooks. However, not every hook on Integrity Blues is terrific. “You Are Free” and “The End Is Beautiful” both have hooks that sound like the band is trying too hard to get some sort of emotional response from the listener, and both fall short.
Is Jimmy Eat World ‘back?’ If ‘back’ means back to their early 2000’s hayday than no. However, the Phoenix band have delivered another strong release that may not end up being anyone’s favorite, but it’s a record that proves JEW still have enough left in them to keep doing what they love, and proves that another record in the future would certainly be welcomed rather than undesirable. Here’s to a potential album #10.