INTEGRITY BLUES by Jimmy Eat World
Genre: Emo, Alternative Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Sure and Certain,” “Get Right,” “Through,” “Pol Roger”
The term one-hit wonder is so unclear and vague that it really shouldn’t even be used. Some people use chart success to determine it, though the issue then becomes what chart to look at. Other times people ignore the charts and simply look at cultural impact and a band’s position in popular conscious. Even though they had plenty of other successful songs and albums, Jimmy Eat World will always be known most prominently as that band that did “The Middle,” and nothing else.
Not that “The Middle” is a bad song to have as your legacy — it’s charming in its simplicity and is one of the most anthemic pop punk songs out there — but Jimmy Eat World deserve to be known for more than that. The band was one of the most prolific in the underground emo scene of the late ʼ90s, and even when pop punk broke into the mainstream in the mid-2000s, they maintained a higher level of quality than bands like Sum 41 and Good Charlotte. Given that those two bands released albums this year, it only makes sense that Jimmy Eat World show these posers what true emo-tinged alternative rock should sound like. While INTEGRITY BLUES, the band’s ninth album, has the emotional lyrics expected from the band, the sloppy sonic experimentation and overly schmaltzy sound erase some of the powerful writing on display.
Jimmy Eat World’s greatest trump card in the emo and pop punk wars of the 2000s was their maturity and genuine emotion. Though they covered many of the same lyrical topics as their peers, like heartbreak and struggling to find identity, JImmy Eat World recklessly tackle the underlying sadness and misery of these topics rather than barely poke at them out of the fear of not seeming like a tough guy. Songs felt like pieces of their protagonist’s ongoing story and growth, but not their entire story. This combined with a stronger sense of introspection and self-assessment, giving their material more emotional weight and depth than their contemporaries. Lead singer Jim Adkins’s voice acts as a complement to the band’s lyrics, coming across as distraught and grief-stricken, but almost never verging into whining that removes the band’s emotional credibility.
INTEGRITY BLUES continues these trends and provides listeners with strong melodies and mature takes on familiar themes. Album opener “You With Me” succinctly tackles the question of whether a person’s personal flaws or their compatibility with their partner’s personality is the roadblock in their relationship, with a refrain of “What makes our love so hard to be? / Is it you, or is that you with me?” “The End is Beautiful” is a poignant and resigned admission of the end of a relationship that both parties knew could never work and have desperately fought against in vain, while “Get Right” is a clever inversion on the “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey” adage, portraying a person obsessed with moving from one location to another and learning nothing from any of it. The only slip up is the weak self-empowerment anthem “You Are Free,” which comes off like “The Middle” was played way too straight.
One of the band’s most consistent and nagging flaws has been their lack of faith in their lyrical ability to convey emotion, so they play all their instruments like they are making music for a soap opera. “Get Right” and “Sure and Certain” have a raw, ʼ90s alt-rock power to them, but many of the other tracks are loaded with soft, overly sentimental guitar leads and piano notes. “You With Me” starts with a minute-long intro featuring an over-the-top angelic choir that starts the album out on an incredibly sweet and simultaneously sour note. When so many of the songs have such an excess of emotion, it becomes exhausting to listen to, since there isn’t enough power behind it to lift it beyond being transparently manipulative. The lyrics are strong enough to make the listener feel melancholic; the band doesn’t need schmaltzy music that might as well come with a sign saying, “THIS IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE YOU FEEL SAD! FEEL SAD ALREADY!”
Jimmy Eat World do dabble in other styles through INTEGRITY BLUES, but it comes across as imitation rather than the band trying to add nuance and wrinkles to their style. “Pretty Grids” has a noise rock-esque distorted bass combined with modern alt-pop synthesizers, while “Pass the Baby” has a programmed drumbeat leftover from Nine Inch Nail’s HESITATION MARKS (why rip off one of Trent Reznor’s worst projects?) and ends with heavy Rage Against The Machine guitars that come out of nowhere. The title track features vocals and production that sound like they were recorded in a giant, open cave and no one edited out any of the echo. However, INTEGRITY BLUES does end on a high note, with “Pol Roger,” the longest track on the album. It is one of the only times the soaring instrumentation has enough scope and size to justify itself, and adds to the picture of a pair of lovers looking out a window in a skyscraper with the rain pounding against the windows, happy that they ended up together after searching for so long.
INTEGRITY BLUES is an especially difficult album to gauge how people will react to. While the lyrics are as consistently heartfelt and genuine as Jimmy Eat World’s previous work, the music is too sentimental and whimsical to provide the necessary framework for the realistic and mature emotions on display. It’s still head and shoulders above many of Jimmy Eat World’s pop punk contemporaries, but to some people that’s like saying a punch to the face is better than a kick to the groin. Enjoyment of the album really comes down to your tolerance level for sweetness; if you can handle a good Halloween night load of sugar, than INTEGRITY BLUES is for you.