Jimmy Eat World - Damage (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Jimmy Eat World

Damage (2013)

RCA / Dine Alone

For a band with such remarkable consistency throughout their career, Jimmy Eat World's 2010 full-length Invented ended up an outlier, a long, meandering collection of retread ballads and weird, out-of-character rock songs that in places, seemed to want to recreate the heights reached on 1999 fan favorite Clarity (the band had performed a successful run of Clarity album shows the year prior to celebrate its tenth anniversary, and it's fair to assume those songs were fresh in the band member's minds). Problem was, JEW weren't that band anymore: In the time since Clarity, they've experienced more success–commercially and critically–than they ever did before or even during its release. With all the hoopla and justified love for that record, it's easy to forget that no one really knew who the band were when it came out 14 years ago.

This is a long-winded way of saying that Damage, Jimmy Eat World's new album, is essentially a polar opposite of Invented–and that's a great thing. Where Invented tended to run long without a strong enough concept to support said length, Damage is easily the most direct and concise record of the band's career. JEW have always used the "less is more" approach with success, they've just never recorded an entire album like that. Fortunately, it works.

Leading up to the album's release, frontman Jim Adkins remarked that Damage was an "adult breakup record." While this isn't a concept album in the same rigid way as say, David Comes To Life, there's a certain solemnity–not unlike what one might feel after a long relationship ends–that perpetually permeates throughout Damage's ten songs, both lyrically and sonically; the production is noticeably and intentionally airy and rough around the edges, giving off a less canned, more personable and live-sounding listening experience.

Even with its loose concept and loose production, Damage still has all the characteristics that make Jimmy Eat World's music so arresting: Opener "Appreciation," first single "I Will Steal You Back" and the excellent "How'd You Have Me" are massively anthemic rockers with copious hooks and melodies. Heavily strummed acoustic guitars anchor ballads like the title track, "Lean" and the pleasantly atmospheric "Please Say No," the latter also incorporating a few electronic elements into a subtly escalating chorus that almost drowns out the reserved vocals of Adkins. Really, Adkins is pretty reserved throughout Damage, while the music tends to louden and hover over him.

While Damage is relatively mid-tempo throughout, its final two tracks switch that up a bit. "Bye Bye Love" is an overt exercise in the loud/quiet dynamic, with slow, sonically minimal verses that burst into huge, crunchy choruses. Closer "You Were Good" almost sounds like a demo (or an extended Guided By Voices tune from their lo-fi era), with nothing more than an acoustic guitar, some strings and the straightforward vocals of Adkins. It's an appropriate closer, a sort of hushed goodbye that drives the album's theme home.

It's hard to call Damage a comeback for Jimmy Eat World, but it's certainly a nice rebound nonetheless. Fans who dismissed the band as being on autopilot after Invented was released should give Damage a try; they'll find a band that's focused, relatable and on top of their game.