You’re never supposed to use first-person pronouns like “I” and “me” in objective writing. Presenting any argument as fact rather than opinion is supposed to make a piece more convincing and professional. That’s simply impossible for me to do in the case of reviewing Jimmy Eat World’s new album, Damage. Jimmy Eat World have been my favorite band since I can remember knowing they were a band. Their record Chase This Light might not be their strongest work, but it was still the first album I ever listened to as a whole, focusing on the entire thing. Bleed American was my favorite record before I knew what a record or, for that matter, what music was. I distinctly remember being in my father’s car, hearing “Sweetness,” and coming to the realization that noises could be arranged into aurally pleasing compositions. The band simply means a lot to me, and, judging by the size of their fan base, they mean a lot to a lot of people.
What does that all mean in terms of Damage? It mostly means that, because of people like me, there are probably some unreasonably high expectations of the album, and a lot of long-term criticisms of it will probably be a result of their fans wanting to go back to when Jimmy Eat World could change their lives all over again and not because the music is bad. In fact, if you look past all of that, there is a strong argument to be made that Damage is their best album ever. It is a focused step forward, and the songs themselves are some of the best and most emotional the band has penned to date.
Everything kicks off with the passionate opener “Appreciation.” The track opens with a bouncy guitar lead, which makes way for frontman Jim Adkins’ heartbroken lyrics. Things eventually crescendo to a passionate conclusion, and the distorted sounds are much more raw than almost anything in the band’s back catalogue. The song proves to be a solid opener, establishing the less pristine production sound and break-up lyrical content, two things that become motifs for the rest of the album. It is immediately followed by the title track “Damage,” easily one of the strongest moments, featuring inventive, off-kilter drumming, atmospheric guitar work, a memorable chorus, and a breathtaking bridge.
Many of the songs follow a similar combination of inoffensive, alternative rock songwriting combined with a palpable sense of angst, but the band somehow manage to make the experience feel varied. The vocals are put low in the mix on “Lean” and “I Will Steal You Back,” with the former creating an invigorating conclusion and the latter using weepy instrumentation to develop a numb feeling of despair. Both are easy to overlook on first listen, but upon further reflection, they prove to be strong, understated counterparts to less subtle ballads like “Book of Love” and “Please Say No.” Each is a more direct composition, with a heavier focus on melody, vocals, and very literal lyrics.
The album sags a little in its mid-late section, with “How’d You Have Me” and “Byebyelove” failing to either outdo similar songs or bring something new to the table. They’re not particularly bad songs, just not moments that will earn them a place in a collection of Jimmy Eat World’s best-ever tracks. Luckily, closer “You Were Good” could very well earn a spot on that list. It is a subtle, lo-fi acoustic song that serves as a fitting conclusion. The track is quiet and simple, but there is just this exhausted emotion flowing out of it that is unmatched by most songs. Each little development, whether it’s the shimmering distortion in the background or the airy background instrumentation, isn’t much in the literal sense of the word, but does a lot to flesh out the track. It is very much a closer in the same vein as Brand New’s classics “Soco Amaretto Lime” and “Play Crack the Sky,” but is so subtly beautiful it makes those sound slightly infantile by comparison.
Ultimately, Damage is a great and moving album. The songwriting is consistently strong, frequently beautiful, and always passionate. It might not carry the same weight as their earlier material for fans, but that’s okay. Because I know that for me, personally, I will never be a toddler who doesn’t know what music is again. No piece of music, and possibly any type of art, could affect me so strongly again, so at this point, I’m just glad that Jimmy Eat World put out another great record that I get to listen to.