Jimmy Eat World - Damage | Album Review | By Volume

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Jimmy Eat World

Damage

An uninspired record which fails even on nostalgia and makes it very tough to believe in any Future at all.

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Author: on June 6, 2013
3.2
RCA Records
June 11, 2013

Look at the art, look at the title, and think: “God dammit, this is the one.” I didn’t even know I was waiting for a one until lead single “I Will Steal You Back” tumbled in, and the question leapt: if the record followed the same upwards arc from single to whole as most Jimmy Eat World records, where would we be come June? And then it hit me. Because despite Futures being still, unequivocally, my favourite album in this discography, I have nevertheless charted the last 6 years – the pop-rock of Chase This Light, the apparently resurgent dark side of Invented – as a plot capable of its own happy curtain call. Little did I realise, until I heard Damage, how much I have been anticipating that classic record at the end of the mainstream rainbow. As closing track “You Were Good” fades out, it feels like the slope of expectations surrounding Jimmy Eat World has eroded, suddenly, into a sheer, sharp cliff.

Are these bad songs? No. The jangly pop guitars of “The Heart Is Hard To Find” return on “Book of Love” for a similarly bittersweet last grasp, and there’s something endearing about “You Were Good”‘s lo-fi tone. But these are the lesser corners of former Jimmy Eat World albums, trodden again with no purpose, no vigour and no imagination. In spite of their consistency since the turn of this millennium, this band have rarely sat still; subtle shifts in mood and timbre have turned every new record into something of an intrigue, with the same underpinning current – simple but charming pop music that latches onto rock influences – but facing a different way. The problem with Damage is that it makes it seem like those changes in direction have borne no movement whatsoever – just a jaded, strangely talented band, pivoting in circles like an abandoned child.

Sticking the boot in are myriad lines and ideas that carry an unfamiliar weight in the wrong light, which this record does its best at every juncture to throw. “How strange, we come to find ourselves, not knowing we were lost!” sings Jim Adkins on this record’s opener, the tepid “Appreciation”, but that’s just the beginning – “until one of us can call it like it is,” he continues on “Book of Love”, as if to draw scribbled circles around his own redundant statements on songs like “Byebyelove”. Adkins promised this to be the band’s mature break-up album, but when the poignancy of its pointed lines makes shapes in the doorway of Jimmy Eat World and not some imagined femme fatale, where’s the escape?

There isn’t one. Musically, structurally, there is nothing to Damage whatsoever, less still when overshadowed by its predecessor. Where Invented was creative, daring and dynamic, 2013 finds Jimmy Eat World underwater and not even noticeably struggling for air. Compare “Appreciation” to openers of old: nothing remains of the aggression of “Salt, Sweat, Sugar”, or the poise of “Heart Is Hard to Find”, or the political outrage of “Futures”. Like everything else on Damage, “Appreciation” has no genuinely good ideas at its core; these are failings of inspiration rather than execution. The asphalt-kissing guitars are replaced by one drawn-out chorus, and a ton of saccharine, over-produced instrumentation, with vocals simultaneously out-layered and ineffective. The dance intrigue of “Higher Devotion” finds no sibling here in either ambition or style. Look to Chase This Light’s pop sensibilities for comfort, and all you’ll find is greater disappointment. “I Will Steal You Back” aside, none of these songs have a melody worth repeating, let alone their postured number of times.

“How You’d Have Me” gets me lost for a second, and I start to wonder whether, actually, I’m turning this opinion on its head. It’s the only moment Damage takes off the safety and lets the tempo surge, and it recalls the Jimmy Eat World of 10 years ago, cutting loose on “Pain”, and even sounding brave on pop songs like “Kill”. That we’ve moved from a place of such incision and honesty, right out to the middle of pop-rock nowhere, is less of a statement than the simple fact that someone as close in as I am to this band’s music has been able to resist the pull of their gravity. Because Damage has no mass, no point, and no identity. Of every song in the band’s back catalogue, it reminds me of “If You Don’t, Don’t” most. That song was about keeping quiet until you’ve got something to say that you really mean. If you don’t, then please, please don’t.

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