Integrity Blues

Jimmy Eat World

RCA, 2016

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


After the slick, radio-friendly, but ultimately unsatisfying Chase This Light (2007), Jimmy Eat World rebounded with Invented (2010) and Damage (2013), seeming to rediscover what made them special in the first place—the combination a facility for strong melodic hooks and a willingness to push boundaries. Their early albums were at the other end of that scale, all too experimental and unfocused, but with Bleed American (2001) and Futures (2004) they struck a balance, a balance evident again on 2016’s Integrity Blues.

Of course, even as Jimmy Eat World has worked to find its creative footing in its second decade as a band, more time has passed; the brash young men of 1996 are now in their early 40s, and both their musical approach and their lyrics have matured over time. Relationships still provide abundant material, but these days the songs are less about the fiery passionate opening chapter as about how relationships evolve over time, and how people grow together and apart. There are also, as indicated by the album title, songs about character and what it means to be a good person (or not) and what consequences there might be for that. Even at their most commercially inclined, Jimmy Eat World—Jim Adkins (vocals/guitars), Rick Burch (bass), Zach Lind (drums) and Tom Linton (guitars/vocals)—have always seemed like a thoughtful bunch.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

One of the best things about this album is that after sanding most of the edges off of their music on Chase This Light, they’ve steadily re-embraced the natural chaos of a big, loud rock band, with instruments bleeding into one another, quirky arrangements and abrupt transitions from soft to loud and back again. First single “Sure And Certain” exemplifies this phenomenon; in the middle of this expansive, hooky rocker they veer into an airy choral section that builds back into a brief sunburst of a guitar solo. It’s one of those tunes where everything’s where it should be without ever feeling careful or precious.

“Pretty Grids” has a similarly messy charm, opening with distorted piano chords and building into a sort of blurry airiness, with a favorite early-days Jimmy touch—bells—making a return appearance at the close. The boundary-pushing continues with “Pass The Baby,” a positively surrealistic number pairing a lyric about politics in the mass media age with music that opens with eerie looped percussion, building tension steadily until in the fifth and final minute the song literally explodes into a bone-crushing heavy metal outro.

The most experimental number of all, alas, might be the least successful. For “Integrity Blues,” the boys put down their instruments and feature lead voice Adkins singing over an orchestra. Good for them for taking the risk, but in this case it falls flat.

In between and all around, the boys deliver Jimmy Eat World’s meat and potatoes, earnest, appealing anthems like opener “You With Me,” the coincidentally rhyming “You Are Free,” and the emphatic “Through.” “Get Right” is the darker flipside of this Jimmy specialty, with a big angular bass line anchoring its intense atmospherics. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jimmy album without at least one hearts-on-their-sleeves ballad, and “The End Is Beautiful” delivers the goods. Closer “Pol Roger” goes big again, a billowing number with a rather haunting melody and the orchestra returning in its epic closing minute. 

The challenge for any band that’s fortunate enough to achieve a certain vintage is to honor their past—and their fans’ expectations—without ceasing to grow. Jimmy Eat World effectively balances their affinity for hooks with their instincts for experimentation on Integrity Blues, and while not every risk taken succeeds, the end result is another consistently appealing outing from the favorite sons of Mesa, Arizona.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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