By: Amanda McMillan
Jimmy Eat World is the kind of band that if you were anywhere between the ages of 11 and 16 in the early aughts, you couldn’t really avoid. Their debut single “The Middle” was, and quite honestly still is, a massive hit. When I realized that they had a new album coming out, I gave ol’ Bleed American (2001) another spin. It actually stands up pretty well nearly 20 years later (feel old yet?). But over the years, Jimmy Eat World hasn’t really left a mark so much as a stain. Which is, perhaps, a little harsh, because they’re a super fun band!
I really enjoyed their last album, 2016’s Integrity Blues. So I was hopeful that their newest release, Surviving, would deliver, if nothing else, something familiar. For the most part, that’s pretty much what you get.
The title track has a strong guitar intro, but the drums make it feel clumsier than it needs to be. Although they’re all playing in time, the bass does help to fill in some of what’s missing when it finally kicks in at the :30s mark, but for a few seconds they're a bit off. The song comes together by the time the first chorus is over, and the more you listen to it the more connected it feels. But for the first track, it lacks a certain synergy.
Then comes “Criminal Energy,” opening with a bit of a metal energy which wouldn’t bother me if it didn’t feel a little unnatural. Jim Adkin’s vocals lightens it up a bit, but the guitar continues to be a bit too much of a nod to Iron Maiden. I appreciate what the song wants to be, but it feels out of place here.
Then we do a complete 180 and arrive at “Delivery”. If I didn’t know better, I would say that this is a forgotten Deathcab for Cutie track, which is not really a compliment. Adkin’s sounds a little too much like Ben Gibbard, in that it’s a touch too whiny, and the song lacks energy, especially coming following the first two tracks. To top it off, the lyrics are lacklustre and fall short of being as philosophical as they intend to be. Ouch.
Now, at “555” we start to turn around. Although this track is kind of sleepy, it has a bit of a Phil Collins vibe, which is fitting. Yes, it has a slightly repetitive melody, but the drum beat finally feels like it makes sense, and the use of synth creates more of a mood than the first three tracks do. This feels like a mature evolution for the band, and makes a little more sense when stacked up against some of the tracks on Integrity Blues.
By the time we get half way through the album, starting with “One Mil” I finally feel like, ‘this is what I came for!’ The acoustic guitar intro quickly turns into an electric power chord, and that Jimmy Eat World vibe finally shows itself. It’s silly and has a taste of millennial nostalgia which is what I wanted from this album. Then with “All the Way (Stay)” there is much of the same. It gives off a notable pop punk revival vibe, with muted guitar strumming, just the right level of whiny vocals, a catchy chorus, and that double drum beat that inspired many a-high-school band in the aughts. Plus, there is a sax solo that comes out of absolutely nowhere which really brings a certain je ne sais quoi to the whole track.
“Diamond” is a bit of an Awkward Kid anthem, and as adults perhaps is more accurately branded an Anxiety Human anthem, while “Recommit”, once again, has a bit of a Phil Collins, spacey feel to it. Although there is a great guitar solo, and some decent lyrics, this song makes them sound like a different band, reminding me of some other alt rock group that I can’t quite put my finger on. Foals? Young the Giant? City & Colour (even if just melodically)? The point is, it sounds like something else and it’s not Jimmy Eat World. Is that a good or bad thing? I’m not sure.
This is a relatively short album, the 10 tracks clocking in at only 36 minutes. What more do we really need from Jimmy Eat World in 2019? But in just over half an hour, Surviving seems to go back and forth between a shinier version of classic Jimmy Eat World, and an overly polished ode to their 80s influences. I’m not exactly sure what it was that I was expecting to hear from a band that I like purely for nostalgic reasons, but I guess this is it. In all honesty, it’s a bit hit or miss. Surviving meanders from being forgettable, to kind of fun, to recognizable, and back again. Several tracks certainly sound like the Jimmy Eat World some of us have come to know and love over the years, but it ultimately falls a little short. Perhaps I shouldn’t have listened to Bleed American again before I listened to Surviving. Perhaps it spoiled the mood.