Jimmy Eat World Find Growth Within Nostalgia on 'Integrity Blues'
by Brody Coronelli
Jimmy Eat World are an integral part of emo’s formative years. The aching melodies and sparkling guitars of Static Prevails and Clarity helped guide a genre in it’s infancy, giving it somewhere to go; a standard to be held to. However, when the band approached more of a radio-friendly sound on 2001’s Bleed American, they still packed the same punch as before; a rare happenstance for a band that diverges away from the sound they cradled in favor of something more accessible. Bleed American wasn’t only good, though: it was great. With “The Middle”, “A Praise Chorus”, and “Sweetness” all gaining serious airplay, making way for denser cuts like “Cautioners” and “My Sundown”, the album still remains a near perfect example of early 2000s pop-rock. With Futures, Bleed American’s 2004 followup, Jimmy Eat World took on the aching emo-rock that shaped them, this time offering it on a polished and refined platter. Futures is one of my favorite albums of all time; a record I hold almost everything I hear to. The problem with falling in love with a band’s early album, though, is that you eventually hold every subsequent release to that standard, hoping they’ll find a way to reanimate that invigorating energy. Luckily, four albums later on Integrity Blues, Jimmy Eat World have done just that.
It’s not that Chase This Light, Invented, and Damage were bad records. They were excellent albums, eternalizing the process of successful creative maturity for a band approaching their twenty year mark. However, none of these albums captured the same electric, youthful energy that early albums like Futures traded exclusively in. That makes Integrity Blues, an album written past the band’s twenty year anniversary, an anomaly. This is an album that feels like it was written by a younger band while also carrying a growing sense of growth and maturity; two contradicting qualities that Jimmy Eat World folds into excellence.
The opening track “You With Me” works with a slow-burning intro of acoustic guitar strikes, falsetto vocal harmonies, and ambient production that feels characteristic of a neon-singed skyline. Bolstered by a percussive acoustic rhythm track and production that pushes frontman Jim Adkins’ vocals slightly behind the foreground, this song’s invigorating, arena-rock-esque chorus and soaring vocal harmonies make it a fitting lead. The song feels like a fleshed out afterthought from Damage, this time adorned with bright lights and newfound energy. Lead single “Sure and Certain” follows this, trading in sharply delivered verses and a sky-splitting, cinematic chorus. “Sure and certain, wander ‘til we’re old/Lost and lurking, wonder ‘til we’re cold”. This cinematic quality present on “Sure and Certain” is a trend that finds it’s way throughout this entire album. The songs feel thematic and connected to something larger and more sentimental than themselves.
Integrity Blues is a succession of songs one after another that separate themselves from the ones before in expression and execution. “It Matters” echoes the sustained, fluttering vocal delivery on Futures’ beloved “Polaris”. “Pass The Baby”, while somewhat of an oddity in the band’s catalog, is a sparkling, rhythm-heavy slow-burner that feels adventurous and thematic. “The End Is Beautiful” is a classic, mid-tempo ballad; the kind that Jimmy Eat World has perfected multiple times in the past.
While the bulk of Integrity Blues is sprawling and memorable note by note, the band saves some of their most moving work for last. The title track “Integrity Blues” is an ambient, spacious spark with soaring instrumentation that rises and falls alongside Adkins’ expressive, tell-all vocals. The closer “Pol Roger” is an immediate, near seven-minute song that continues the band’s tradition of ending each record in a lengthy, wrought, and sentimental torch. Adkins soars just above a cityscape of polished guitars and ambient, cinematic production. “First they’ll think you’re lost, but you’re not, it’s the easy feeling”. The song fades out in a fashion similar to “23”, another emotionally-expansive, seven-minute closer in the band’s catalog. These two songs are among the best ones Adkins has ever written, and all the pent up emotion on the earlier tracks is saved up to gracefully crash out of these last two songs.
On the polished, bright, and expansive Integrity Blues, Jimmy Eat World have found a way to be the band they were from the start while also riding on a road of growth and maturity. They aren’t the same band as they were twenty years ago, and that becomes clear, but the band’s growth in relation to this old flame also makes it’s presence certain. Integrity Blues is the band’s best album since 2004’s Futures, as well as a sonic capture of a band that still hasn’t lost their spark after all these years.
Listen to: “Pol Roger”, “Integrity Blues”