For those of us concerned with such things, I often find myself wondering what a band at Jimmy Eat World's level must be thinking about the current musical landscape. What's their real motivation to continue releasing new music in a day and age where the labels have all but succeeded in removing sales from the equation?
While lesser bands have resorted to sad attempts to recapture what was essentially a random lightning strike in the first place, Jimmy Eat World have carried on admirably in the wake of the meteoric, life-altering success of "The Middle" in 2002.
It was a song that stood out from the 'roid rage rap-metal acts that dominated modern rock radio playlists at a time when the country itself was picking up the pieces after 9/11. Of course, the song (and album) had been recorded during a time when the band themselves were picking up the pieces after being unceremoniously dropped by Capitol Records.
Needless to say, this development left the band devastated and pondering their existence, but after a period of contemplative wound-licking, the band soldiered on. Rather than tempt major labels to sign the band only to have said label interfere in the recording of what was most certainly a make-or-break album for the band, Jimmy Eat World set about recording the album themselves and shopping the finished product to labels.
The success of the resulting album (Bleed American) and single ("The Middle") saw Jimmy Eat World's stock skyrocket. They weren't just an Emo band from Arizona anymore, they were Top 5 hit makers and with that came a whole new set of priorities and expectations...if the band chose to accept them. By doing so, they would knowingly march to their own execution because then they're in pre-production with Max Martin or The Matrix and competing with the J.Lo's and Metallicas of the world where less than Top 5 ("The Middle"'s peak chart position) is complete failure.
During that time, their label (DreamWorks, also home to eels) was swallowed up by Jimmy Iovine's Interscope blob who, much like their first major label, barely knew they existed. The band must have felt their days were numbered because, instead of stick with the formula that got them there (i.e., work with Mark Trombino) for what what be their first "long-awaited follow-up", they chose to work with Gil Norton of Pixies and Belly fame instead.
The resulting album was a dark, but big-sounding rock record that sounded like a hit coming out of the speakers on first listen and has since gone on to be certified gold for sales of 500,000 units.
Since then, the band has released numerous albums and the band's producer choices continue to astound and delight from album to album. For example, never in a million years would I imagine the band working with one-half of the short-lived '80s duo Walk The West, but Jimmy Eat World did just that on 2013's Damage. They also cut Chasing The Light (2007) with Chris Testa, John "Strawberry" Fields and Butch Vig.
The band's newly-released Integrity Blues sees them working with Justin Meldal-Johnsen, who also produced the Raveonettes, Tegan & Sara, as well as the new M83 record Junk.
So how is the new record, you ask?
Sonically, it's warmer than any record since Bleed American and doesn't scream "Pro Tools!" at every turn. You can literally imagine actual humans playing the instruments, which, sadly, is something that can't be said for much of their recent output.
Song-wise, this album seems to have the band in a transitional frame of mind. Otherwise, it's hard to comprehend the band even attempting a song like "It Matters", which sounds like the song a mortgage-concerned Coldplay might write in order to make the suits at the label happy.
In true Jimmy fashion, though, they follow it with the lo-fi power pop of "Pretty Grids" and nab the song Dave Grohl's been trying to write since that first Foo Fighters record.
So, will it be the mega-platinum pop smash that puts Jimmy Eat World back atop the rock world or join the list of albums with high hopes that fell short of expectations in an age of diminishing returns?