Jimmy Eat World — sweet and sour, just right
Jimmy Eat World's massive commercial success with the 2001 album Bleed American (retitled, post-9/11, Jimmy Eat World) came as a left-field surprise, but it wasn't hard to understand.
An idealistic, earnest Arizona quartet with indie-punk roots, they rock hard while also conveying sensitive-guy enlightenment. Musically, they're sweet and sour in the right proportions: While their fat guitar riffs and piledriving rhythm section make them appealing to those with aggro tendencies, their songs (most obviously the sing-along hit "The Middle") are inescapably tuneful and loaded with lush, contrapuntal, pop harmonies.
Either fame has thrown them for a predictable loop or current events are making them tense, but Futures feels unusually ambivalent - even dour - for this life-affirming band. Right off the bat, lead singer/songwriter Jim Adkins sings, in the title song, "I always believed in futures/I hope for better in November," a wish that for all its surface optimism, reveals a well-founded election-year anxiety. Futures' disquieting mood reaches a crescendo in the middle with a melanchology trio of songs. The driving, anguished "Pain" ironically addresses the need to numb all emotion: "Anyone can find the same white pills/that take my pain away." It's followed by the piano ballad "Drugs or Me," with the admonition: "You promise that you're done/but I can't tell you from the drugs." The sad dreaminess of "Polaris" finds Adkins, who longingly sang
Frequently, and mindlessly, categorized as an emo band, Jimmy Eat World only fits the description in the sense that Adkins' lyrics often read like insular diary entries, a common emo shortcoming. But if he's a mediocre wordsmith, he's never an indifferent one, and that makes a difference. His passion and idealism, when coupled with JEW's righteous attack, make these songs connect in spite of their own deficiencies.
A generation ago, something similar could have been said about U2, another morally-centered band crusading against cynicism and grappling with its own doubts. Jimmy Eat World's musical touchtones may be indie titans like Fugazi and Guided By Voices, but in pop-culture terms, they're filling the same hole Bono and his bandmates filled 20 years ago, and they're doing it well. •