By Marvin Dotiyal, Features Editor
[Exotic Location Recordings; 2019]
Key tracks: “Criminal Energy”, “Recommit”, “All the Way (Stay)”
Twenty years ago, Jimmy Eat World released their third full-length album, Clarity. In retrospect, it’s a deftly crafted blueprint for second-wave emo that brought malleability to the genre with their dynamic, forward-thinking qualities. Then, the quintessential Bleed American fostered the band’s abiding legacy, and Futures rounded their alt-rock edges with emotional vulnerability. For a band that has seen generational shades of the genre, they’ve faced constant cycles of triumph, defeat, and growth throughout their career.
While staying true to the contagious hooks of “The Middle” or the delicate-yet-epic songwriting of “23”, Jimmy Eat World’s tenth album, Surviving, unearths their past emotions and also confronts new ones in the form of stylistic shifts and callbacks. While the members are now decades into their career and pushing their forties, this is Jimmy Eat World surviving, in the purest form.
From the beginning, it’s evident that the band is indeed surviving—certainly not dying—with cutting power chords that revive the punk-leaning complexions of their sound (“Surviving”). With an all-encompassing emotional cognizance, frontman Jim Adkins acknowledges the essence of everything that surrounds and matters to him, from the moral sickness of modernity in “Criminal Energy” to the gratifying self-discovery in “All the Way (Stay)”.
The band maintains the same humble and wistful composure that they are known for and also incorporates radio-rock elements that seem out of left field but inevitable for a long-lasting band. Their power-pop sensibilities continue to uphold as a backbone for their songwriting. Even if it’s the formula we’ve seen frequently in the past, it seems like they find a new approach every time with each release, reaching the same destination from a different sonic route.
While this LP testifies to that notion, employing the upbeat nature of Chase This Light (“Love Never”) and maintaining the melodramatic slow burns of raw Midwest emo (“Recommit”), their stylistic shifts in songs such as “555” or the six-minute “Congratulations” fail to reveal their innovative attempts. To recall the fact that their experimental endeavors put them on the map 20 years ago with Clarity and their ability to adapt to new trends shortly after, Surviving vastly pales in comparison.
Though Jimmy Eat World have proved and maintained their relevance throughout the course of their career by the mastering of their sound, the problem arises when they linger at the same destination for almost a decade. As musicians, it’s difficult to have a consistent growth pattern like Jimmy Eat World, but what’s more difficult is breaking that habit, which is what Surviving attempts to achieve. However, the album falls short with its decent but stylistically safe results.
The Arizona quintet continues to add new perks and dust off old tricks in their arsenal, but for now, it feels like they are only here to appease the dark-eyed dreamers that nailed the singalongs to “Sweetness” — or the longtime fans that cling on to the zeitgeist of the classic emo aesthetic. At the same time, however, the band is not entirely at fault; it’s also the product of stagnation of the genre, which makes it hard for the scene veterans to adjust to the present.
As mentioned earlier, Jimmy Eat World has been a consistent band, and maybe it’s not in the best interest of a couple of 40-somethings to adapt to the odd-metered guitar tapping of this generation just to revisit their youth and appeal to the modern crowd. Maybe Surviving is just a sincere manifestation of them desperately surviving the wave. Maybe it’s a hint of refusal to conforming and growing up—and that’s still quite emo, if anything.