After what seemed to be a brief flirtation with independence and label autonomy, Jimmy Eat World returned to Interscope for their seventh studio album, Invented. While the idea of such a beloved, influential group eschewing the machine is exciting and romantic, it's easy to forget that JEW have been a major-label band for essentially their entire career, outside of their long out-of-print 1994 debut and a couple of splits and EPs here and there.
And if you think you've heard this story before, you're right; the band first experienced major label exile after the commercial failure of 1999's Clarity, which in turn resulted in a self-financed followup in the form of Bleed American, which what would actually be their breakthrough that Capitol had been looking for two years prior. At any rate, it's presumed that Invented was recorded under similar circumstances; without the pressure of a major label, the guys would be free to really express themselves and create something that hopefully sounded fresh and familiar all at the same time, something that would win back devoted fans feeling a bit disenfranchised after 2007's Butch Vig-produced Chase This Light portrayed the band as too slick and not nearly vulnerable enough. That last line is prudent here, because despite Mark Trombino's return to the fold as producer, Invented is almost too vulnerable, not to mention wildly inconsistent and only occasionally interesting.
"My Best Theory" was a questionable choice for a first single to be sure; the song relies heavily on canned guitar harmonics and Jim Adkins's vocals to evoke emotion, and while in theory these are positive attributes, in practice they come off as a bit too hollow. Without that extra crunch, be it from fuzzy guitar riffs or pounding drums, the finished product sounds, well, unfinished. A better choice may have been "Movielike" or even "Coffee and Cigarettes," both of which contain simple yet effective choruses that are far more memorable than anything in "Theory" and represent the band's aesthetic far more accurately, even if the synthy crap in "Cigarettes" may have been a poor decision.
We're reviewing an album here, though, not potential singles, so let's get down to why Invented doesn't work: It's largely a collection of slow, meandering pop that, unlike the band's previous albums, isn't effectively interspersed with more abrasive material. Jimmy Eat World have always been proficient at cohesively mixing dreamy emo landscapes and flat-out rockers on their records; "Blister" wouldn't have hit nearly as hard if it hadn't been preceded on Clarity by "For Me This Is Heaven." Same goes for "Sweetness" and "Hear You Me" on Bleed American, as well as the Futures combination of "Pain" and "Drugs or Me"...etc. You get the idea. Without that yin and yang in place, Invented crawls along pretty slowly, and the moments here where the band give actual rock music the old college try--the Tom Linton-fronted "Action Needs an Audience" springs to mind, which is really just a disappointingly inferior rewrite of "Your New Aesthetic"--come off as slapdash and silly.
More missteps include the industrial guitar overtones on "Higher Devotion," a song that other than the vocals, vaguely resembles something Linkin Park would write, as well as the acoustic guitar, handclaps and strings that make "Heart Is Hard to Find" a track that would've worked far better as a closer than an opener. "Stop," "Littlething" and "Cut" open up the album's second half, and while "Stop" is a prime example of Jimmy Eat World's ability to craft an interesting, heartfelt ballad, the two songs that follow it seem like a wet blanket in comparison and meander so much it's difficult to keep paying attention to what's happening.
Perhaps what makes all these miscues even more disappointing and angering is that Invented does contain three legitimately great songs, songs that are on par with the band's best. "Evidence" is a flawless balance of heartfelt, vulnerable vocal melodies and a crunchy, guitar-heavy chorus for which the buildup is excellent. The album also closes with two positively epic tracks in "Invented" and "Mixtape," with the title track resting on a foundation of quiet, largely acoustic instrumentation and heartfelt, subdued vocals from Adkins previously unheard on Invented before climaxing into an anthemic, crunchy payoff near the five-minute mark and then coming back down to earth for its final 90 seconds or so. The manner in which the song is constructed is bound to make it a live favorite for years to come. On the other hand, "Mixtape" is the sort of vaguely electronic, howling closer we've come to expect from Jimmy Eat World, and while it's no "Goodbye Sky Harbor" or "23," it's impressive just the same, if only because of the vocal performance from Adkins that combines vulnerability and confidence into the oft-repeated lyric "You don't get to walk away, walk away now / It's too late late, you can't walk away, walk away now" in a manner that only he seems capable of dictating.
Invented will turn a lot of heads for the wrong reasons and flatly, it's going to disappoint a lot of people clamoring for the "next great Jimmy Eat World album." The band has a passionate, loyal fanbase (of which this writer is a proud member, despite what was written above) which will likely only be marginally effected by this transgression, and choose to keep and replay the great songs, delete the poor songs from their hard drives and wait patiently for the band's next move. Hopefully it's a little more calculated than this one.