For years, emo has made its way from the talk of the underground scene to a mainstream buzzword and back again. Countless bands have wrestled their way towards varying levels of relevance and fanfare, many of whom have since been eulogized by sites like this one. As the fanfare and prestige regarding emo wavers back and forth over the years, only a handful of bands have managed to sustain themselves through these changing tides. While the name of the game has changed time and time again, Jimmy Eat World is one of those stalwarts whose name has remained among the giants of the genre for almost two decades.
1999’s critical darling Clarity established a legacy mounted by its commercially successful follow-up Bleed American, one rooted in defining an entire generation of the genre, and then some. Now three years removed from Damage, an embrace of the rawness and purity of the band and its songwriting, Integrity Blues sets its feet in the band’s continued growth amidst a well-establish legacy. Combining a knack for melody with a sound as polished as we’ve seen from this band, this record serves as a strong addition to this band’s well-established legacy.
With Damage, Jimmy Eat World shifted away from the radio-oriented, slickly produced vibes that have come from the band since their popularity boomed. Integrity Blues continues where Invented left off, continuing once more with a buffed and polished sound made for mainstream ears and emo fans alike. The band carries with them the same tricks they had at their most popular, with a knack for catchy, charismatic choruses, with a romantic grittiness to them. On “Sure and Certain”, the guitar riffs in the intro lead into a tune with the same sort of youthful jubilee of “Always Be” or “The World You Love”, but with an aura of autumn nights that makes it even more sweet and sugary.
Having over 20 years of work under their belt, the band manages to show off their sense of maturity as a means of differentiating them from their younger emo peers. “It Matters” plays with a driving keyboard force, along with a modest arrangement of bass, percussion, and light guitar. Along with Jim Adkins’s familiar charisma, the hook of “When you pull away, I say it matters/with a quiet face, I break, I’m shattered” feels undeniably like a Jimmy Eat World track. It is the humble instrumentation and its incorporation that renders it akin to an early Keane or Snow Patrol track. This band is noted for a sonic consistency from album to album, and a strong, mature, alternative rock flavor manages to seep through a little more here than we’ve seen before.
With that in mind, this sort of sonic consistency that the band is known for continues to show itself on this record. The opener, “You With Me”, serves as less of a thesis statement as it does a prologue. As opposed to firing on all cylinders from the get go, guitar strums, vocal harmonization, and a distinctive percussive rhythm take well over a minute to build into a tightly wound emo/pop rock opener to a record with the sort of intention as this one. As opposed to the cathartic emotion of Clarity or the accessibly dark broodiness of Futures, Integrity Blues finds itself showcasing the chops of a band that has full control of its craft.
While the first half of the record plays with several different ideas, it is the second half where we see the band at its strongest. After “Get Right”, a must-add to any sports team’s pump up playlist, the final five tracks of Integrity Blues are the tracks that are most akin to anything else we’ve seen from Jimmy Eat World. The main difference is the fact that this half of the record completely shifts its trajectory from what is put down in the first half.
The one-two punch of “You Are Free” and “The End Is Beautiful” possesses the same sort of romantic qualities as some of the most memorable non-singles in the band’s catalog. With the latter, the interplay between guitar and deliberate drums conjure up images of autumn leaves or snowflakes falling, maxing out on the simple chorus that states that “it doesn’t have to hurt, anymore” behind a subtle accent of keys in the background. Even the darker mood behind “Through” leads into a cathartic cut complete with strong, passionate, backing vocals that makes it a memorable standout that could play very well on tour.
The way the last two tracks, “Integrity Blues” and “Pol Roger”, meld together is akin to “Night Drive” and “23”, albeit with less of an arena sound and a greater emphasis on what the band accomplishes on the rest of the record. The pseudo-gang chorus in the closer turns into cathartic shouts and a powerful soundscape that captures the same sort of emotion, before fading into a sea of masked harmonization and ambient sounds. It holds its own in the echelon of conversation one of the band’s best closing songs, something that wraps up the record in the best way possible.
Looking at past Jimmy Eat World records, the back half often features the more cathartic and passionate tracks, contrasted with the more melodic and sometimes subdued nature of the first half. At this point, the band has quite a strong handle of what they’re doing, and the execution, especially on the back side, is down to the tee. Integrity Blues covers all the bases of a classic Jimmy Eat World record in such a consistent and pristine manner.
It’s hard to look at the work of older, more established, bands in isolation. With the sort of legacy that they have, it is only natural that one conducts comparisons across records. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as a band that lacks the ability to adapt and evolve isn’t necessarily one that is worth investing in. However, it is important to be able to look at records on their own merit. Integrity Blues is the ninth studio album by a band whose legacy is already clear to us, but this record pushes this legacy even further. The longevity of Jimmy Eat World is embodied in this record, a complete experience that works with new ideas and successfully executes with the traditional.
Emo/Alternative | RCA Records