Jimmy Eat World will never escape “The Middle,” and they’re quite all right with that. Twenty-three years on, the Arizona band has yet to match the success of 2001’s quintessential single, which marked their apotheosis from emo into the coveted ranks of the 2000s-alt-rock canon. And yet, rather than distance themselves from it (lest it oversimplify the band’s broader body of work over the past two decades), Jimmy Eat World welcomes its ubiquity, showcased most recently in a playful Apple Music commercial featuring Taylor Swift lip-syncing the Bleed American track. “I’d rather be the unsexy fact,” frontman Jim Adkins recently explained, “than the opinion that’s going to change next week.”
Is time’s slow, plodding march sexy? Not really. But it works for Jimmy Eat World. The band’s simple, concise bubblegum has enabled both their ascent and their steady presence in the rock world. The synth-y experiments of their most recent effort (2013’s Damage) aside, reinvention typically takes a backseat to melodic reliability where the band’s praxis is concerned, especially on their latest album, Integrity Blues. Their glossiest release to date (thanks to the involvement of Justin Meldal-Johnsen, a session musician for the likes of Air and Nine Inch Nails who’s manned the boards for Paramore, M83, and Tegan and Sara, among others), the 11-track effort sees Adkins and company doubling down on the jagged hooks and dulcet-sung choruses fans have come to expect, festooned with their usual angst.
Outlining the album’s themes in a recent interview with Aesthetic Magazine, Adkins described the so-called “integrity blues” as a two-pronged paralysis, felt personally and creatively. “When you are so dead set on the thing that you want,” he mused, “you ignore a lot of the real things around you, when you’re in pursuit of some imaginary far off goal.” Accordingly, the record marks a conscious attempt to undo the liminal slump of records past: out with the meandering ballads and snoozy acoustics, in with the bristling, crunchy pop songs. Nostalgia reigns on the previously released singles “Sure And Certain” and “Get Right,” callbacks to the syrupy grunge exhibited on Bleed American and its underrated follow-up, Futures; the winding torch song “Pretty Grids,” by contrast, nods to the subdued palette of 2007’s Chase This Light. Fan service suits them well.
Of course, they’re not completely resistant to unexpected twists. Slow burner “Pass The Baby,” the closest point on the album to an aural experiment, eventually gives way to a sludgy, churning breakdown pulled from the Mastodon playbook. It’s a refreshingly sinister turn, given the sonic pleasantries dominating the LP (a glittering piano line here, a major-key harmony there, buoyant guitars everywhere)—but as always, Jimmy Eat World is at its best when it’s in arena mode, especially on anthemic cuts like “Through,” quite possibly their most insidious track since “The Middle.” In the case of Integrity Blues, the band’s truisms prove much sexier than expected, and the fact is that it’s their strongest album in well over a decade.