Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Album Review: Jimmy Eat World - Damage

Album Grade: C
As someone with little experience in the fields of adulthood and breakups, I was left with plenty of questions when Jim Adkins announced his group’s latest effort would be an “adult breakup record.” As far as I could tell, all breakups are fundamentally the same; perhaps the parting of adults is more amicable and less hormonally-charged than that of two young adults or twenty-somethings, but the sting of being told, or telling, you are incompatible with another human, someone who was once the center of your world, must still feel the same, right? Bearing this question in mind, I approached Damage as an opportunity to hear the traditional breakup record handled with grace and flipped on its head.

 In the past, Jimmy Eat World had never shied away from writing about difficult topics or stretching their boundaries as musicians. Clarity’s closer “Goodbye Sky Harbor” sits at more than 16 minutes long, nearly half the length of Damage, and has a 13 minute coda section; Futures was notable for its sonic diversity and Adkins’ willingness to tackle topics ranging from virginity loss to addiction but, most importantly, his ability to connect with the listener on an emotional level. Where Damage really falters is its inability to carry any sort of emotional weight. Adkins’ words are diluted by the inoffensiveness of the arrangements. Each track is distinguishable from the others, with few exceptions, only through the lyrics as jangly guitar chords and Zach Lind’s trademark, dangerously treading the line of formulaic after the eighth time around, hi-hat rhythms are methodically driven like a stake through the listener’s ears with barely even a tempo change to stave off the boredom. Even Adkins’ usually energetic vocals sound bored remaining within their allotted octave.

Furthermore, the only sign of maturity that may be gleaned from this ‘adult’ record, aside from the general passivity of those involved in it, is the acoustic guitar, which found itself as the album’s centerpiece in earlier drafts, but has been overshadowed by the rest of the band for the official release. The lyrically confounding ballad “Please Say No” is an exception, with the slight chords and graceful cymbal taps slowly building into a piano-driven last verse with the electric guitar providing support. It’s a strong display of craftsmanship, a good example of why Jimmy Eat World has remained relevant for as long as they have, but the lyrics prove to be its undoing. In, I assume, his quest to appear mature, Adkins imbues his lyrics with a strong taste of stoicism that occasionally sound childish (“Goodbye, I’ll get over it”), but more often are just uninspiring. All the typical post-breakup emotions- nostalgia, desire to rekindle the feelings, loneliness, sadness and spite- are glossed over, always acknowledged but never dissected.

Maybe that’s what feeling adult is like: having gone through the motions so many times you know exactly what to feel, so it’s more a chore than anything else. Damage is its own form of a chore. Adkins dutifully pushes the buttons of his faithful disciples who have stuck around through the thin of the past two albums, trying to pass this off as “raw” by recording it in a house using Pro Tools (it’s actually incredibly polished), performing in a way that is undeniably ‘their style’ and penning a few sing-along choruses that will have them recalling days of “The Middle.” The rest is the band punching the clock, giving a baseline effort to an album born with the potential to challenge the conventions of the breakup album but ultimately takes the road more frequently traveled. 

1. Appreciation 
2. Damage
3. Learn
4. Book of Love
5. I Will Steal You Back
6. Please Say No
7. How'd You Have Me
8. No, Never
9. Byebyelove
10. You Were Good

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