Thursday, April 17, 2008

Jimmy Eat World chases a dimming light

By Jon Jacobs

October 8, 2007 | When we last left Jimmy Eat World, we found ourselves bobbing our heads (albeit slowly) to the droned new-age-emo balladry of the band's critically acclaimed last effort, 2004's Futures.

Singer Jim Adkins' ethereal voice hovered over often-subdued guitar melodies in a near-perfect mosaic of emotional intimacy and rock action. The album's release guaranteed the band's place as forerunners in the world of modern emo rock.

So when Jimmy Eat World announced in 2006 that it was working with legendary producer Butch Vig, famous for his work with the Smashing Pumpkins and Nirvana, excitement levels were understandably high for the band's followers. It seemed as though Jimmy Eat World really would "eat the world," and its latest release, Chase This Light (Tiny Evil label, in general release Oct. 16), sounded perfect in theory.

Unfortunately, not all theories perform as planned in reality, as Light seems to illustrate. The album's opener as well as first single, Big Casino, showcases traditional Jimmy Eat World kickoff tracks such as Futures and Bleed American, except featuring multi-layered guitar overdubs reminiscent of The Smashing Pumpkins' 1993 album Siamese Dream and an insurgence of synthesizers and vocal harmonies layered a mile deep. "Big production for a big song, perhaps" you find yourself thinking, yet are sadly disappointed as Casino seems more content to simmer in the memory than to burn.

The standard set by Casino seems ever-present on the entirety of the album's tracks. The slick production demands your attention, even if you're not sure which innovative production quirk you're supposed to be focusing on.

The guitar melodies are gigantic, stampeding your eardrums with walls of distortion and enough punch to knock your socks off. The vocals are accompanied by a choir of backup harmonies seeming to beg you to be moved emotionally. Symphonies of synthesizers, bells, and whistles add an unfortunate flavor of modern pop to your ears. But for every wailing, cathedral-sized chorus, there is a reminder of the absence of the band's prior lyrical and sensory sublimity.

The album's heavier tracks such as Firefight and Electable (Give It Up) inflict a much-needed set of polished, sonic hysteria, but fail to achieve the emotive nature of the band's earlier releases. While the calmer Futures-era ballads such as Gotta Be Somebody's Blues grasp at the heartstrings but end up only pulling your patience.

The lyrical nature of the album appears to intend life-altering changes of heart and mind, yet miss their mark on most accounts. Lyrics such as "You don't speak for me, I am my voice, and I want to scream" feel more reminiscent to a band with 14 months of experience instead of 14 years.

The album is not completely lacking in standout tracks, however. The dancy Here it Goes displays Jimmy Eat World's ability to craft polished, clever pop tracks. And the percussive and melodic simplicity of Let it Happen uses the album's eccentric production to its advantage, even if suspiciously similar to the structure of their 2004 track Kill.

Overall, Light feels more like the product of Butch Vig's pristine and masterful production skills than the sixth album from Jimmy Eat World. Sonically, the album sounds as tight as the band has ever been, and the production makes for an enjoyable listen. Yet too often the band seems content to allow that production to overpower its ingenuity in song crafting.

Chase This Light is not a bad album, but it is nothing spectacular when compared with the powerful stature of the band's back-catalogue. Where Jimmy Eat World seemed to want a lesson in production mastery, it seems the band truly needed a lesson in brevity.

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