Interscope Records, 2004
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/01/2004
What's left to do once you've conquered the world?
It's a question that has troubled many a band over the years. It's all too common to see groups reacting to their big break by spending the next few years either trying too hard to repeat it, or trying too hard not to. Getting what you've been after all those years -- success, acceptance, an audience -- can be completely unnerving.
Three years ago Jimmy Eat World conquered the known rock and roll universe with the smash album Bleed American (retitled Jimmy Eat World post-9/11) and its Godzilla-sized hit single "The Middle." Coming on the heels of a series of setbacks that had seen the band dropped by Capitol Records, only to be re-signed by Dreamworks, the success (creative and commercial) of Bleed American had to be a tremendously satisfying personal triumph for the band.
On their three-years-later follow-up, some things have changed for the boys of Jimmy -- Jim Adkins on vocals and guitars, Rick Burch on bass, Zach Lind on drums, and Tom Linton on guitars and vocals -- and some have stayed the same. The band remains a tremendously appealing combination of doe-eyed sincerity and heavy, hooky riffs. What they wisely don't try to do is recreate the epic undercurrents of many of the songs on Bleed American. No, there isn't a song as instantly memorable as "A Praise Chorus" here -- but neither is there a song that strives as hard to be instantly memorable.
Instead what you get is a solid, impressive, steadily-grows-on-you set from a band that has experienced success without losing the earnestness that has always been at the core of its music. I mean, who else in this uber-cynical age could get away with opening an album with a declaration like "I always believed in futures"? The surprisingly political title track also includes lines like "Believe your voice can mean something" in service of a searching, forward-looking attitude.
Yes, this band is growing up and the music is growing with them, with a number of songs here narrating transitions to adulthood, notably "23" and the luminous, melancholy, altogether wonderful "The World You Love." The theme doesn't end there, though; even relationship songs like "Work" and "Kill" show a recognition of consequences that is distinctly mature.
Other highlights include: "Night Drive," a well-crafted seduction piece full of potent images ("pierce my heart like a willing arm"); "Pain," with its dynamic production and hammering chorus of "It takes my pain away / It's a lie / A kiss with open eyes"; and "Polaris," a gorgeous track on which Tom Linton arguably does a better job of channeling the airy, epic mid-'80s U2 guitar sound than The Edge does on U2's new disc. (For more of the latter, see also the solo on "Nothingwrong.")
The danger this band flirts with from time to time is that their earnestness will drag them down somewhat obvious lyrical paths, as on the rather maudlin "Drugs Or Me." Thing is, they're so good at selling this kind of song with a fully committed performance that they can usually get away with it.
Futures is a terrific step forward for one of the best bands of the new century, an album brimming with youthful rock and roll energy that also manages to be wise beyond its years. It's an album that will make you believe, or at least want to. The world could use more of them.