Review: Jimmy Eat World – Integrity Blues

jimmy-eat-world-2016

Jimmy Eat World is a band that I respect immensely, but for some reason, I tend to view each new release as though it were their final one. I don’t have any precedent for this other than the fact that I have spent 15 years watching what was essentially an emo band morph itself into an incredibly successful indie pop rock band that is still active.

What is spectacular in this regard, though, is that the band manages to retain a familiar sound from album to album while discovering ways to reinvent themselves. Even though they are a band that prefers acoustic ballads over hard guitars, finding new ways to showcase themselves as a band is the most punk rock thing I can think of.

You can buy Integrity Blues on iTunes.

You can buy Integrity Blues on iTunes.

That said, Integrity Blues, threw me off balance on first listen. While most Jimmy Eat World records find a loving balance between aggressive punk songs and soft acoustics, Integrity Blues takes a different approach – whether on purpose or by accident, the album seems to narrow in on one of the greatest twenty 20 of music I can think of and expand it in every way.

While the past couple of albums have become noticeably less rock heavy, Integrity Blues is the first to full abandon the rock format almost completely. Instead, it feels like it has focused in on the final few minutes of Futures and explored the sound of two of my favorite songs the band has ever put out (“Night Drive” and “23”) so as to create a full album out of gentle serenade. If you weren’t listening closely, you’d almost confuse it for a Death Cab for Cutie record from the early 2000’s.

Integrity Blues is an emotional album. It relies heavily on percussion and harmonious bass guitar to do the heavy lifting of the songwriting. It is one of the rare occasions where it feels like the guitar and vocals are more of an extra element that adds to the depth of the music instead of being the main focus (“You With Me”, “It Matters”). Bassist Rick Burch and drummer Zach Lind certainly feel like the MVPs of this record compared to previous releases.

While I am unable to say that Integrity Blues has any bad songs on it, the guitars and vocals definitely take a noticeable step back. Rather than forge the course of the music, they seem to find ways to fill the melody into something wonderful. Each song feels like something that I’ve heard from Jimmy Eat World before, but it is distinctly different from their past work.

What is slightly disappointing is that it doesn’t feel like guitarists Tom Linton and Jim Adkins are pushing themselves. Instead, they are falling back on loving rhythms that create an enticing record, but does little to showcase their skill. “Through” might be the best example of the guitars swirling through melody, but even then it builds towards a bridge before giving way to the incredible bass line.

Jim Adkins’ vocals feel restrained throughout, unfortunately. He doesn’t sound off in any way, but without the rush of guitars, he has no incentive to push himself. Adkins finds his voice in half-breathy gospel tones, similar to Futures’ “23”. His voice fills the songs with an earthy folk tone, but never quite reaches for the higher notes he’s shown in the past. It fits the mood, but doesn’t showcase in the way that you might hope.

A central theme of Integrity Blues is overcoming and standing tall. Though the music lacks the energy of a punk album, the lyrics are beautiful, encouraging and heartbreaking. “You With Me” sets the tone, as some of the opening lines sling off a thesis of, “The list of things I feel is crazy / News to me that I would need a second wake-up / It’s all been happening like they said it might / Am I weak if I want to fight?”

Against the grain of pulsing drumming and a haunting keyboard, Adkins finds himself lost, but hopeful on “Pretty Grids”. “When the fight is done and the feelings come / Is it more than what you thought? Or even want? / No place feels right for a busy mind / However goes the night, it’s what you got / Someday we might not bother / Line up the way we should / Why not? The sun just feels too good”.

“The End is Beautiful” reflects fondly an on a relationship in its final days, as Adkins comes to terms with the fact in his own way over mounting guitars. “There must be a plan that neither of us could see / So we went along where it went, a party within a dream / I never felt peace like that, it was safety as I’ve never known / Oh, but I knew nothing, I was sick / And I don’t blame a thing that you did”.

“Pol Roger”, the final song on the record returns to the thesis of looking for the bright side and encourages the listener to do their best over the course of nearly seven minutes. The final chorus is perhaps the most positive message JEW has ever written.

“First they’ll think you’re lost – it’s the easy feeling / Yeah, there’s every chance you could crash if you don’t believe it / Why spend more time in a lie if it goes on that way? / Love don’t come to you, who knew, it just was there, always”.

Integrity Blues isn’t the most progressive album that Jimmy Eat World has put out, but it is one of the most positive. It’s a slow build-up of music that finds the charred march of pulling yourself from a dark place and picking yourself up to the point that you can believe in yourself again. Integrity Blues doesn’t have any answers, but what it offers is hope.

The songs are heartfelt, melodic and soft, much in the same way that good advice always finds its way to you. It’s not an album that may rival the most loved of Jimmy Eat World’s albums, but it may be the most Jimmy Eat World album ever written. It’s cohesive, thunderously emotional and taps into every emotion it can with sincerely great writing. If this was the last album the band ever put out, I would see it as their opus. But since I have been wrong literally every other time I have thought that, It is an honor to see the band dial in on their one section of their own sound from past discography and expand it in every way.

3.5/5

by Kyle Schultz

kyle_catKyle Schultz is the Senior Editor at It’s All Dead and has worked as a gaming journalist at Structure Gaming. He lives in Chicago and has no reason to believe that Jimmy Eat World would break up any time soon. They seem so well put together. But for some reason, each time they announce a new album, it comes as a shock to him. Why? KISS is technically still together, and they are way more volatile. There is no solution. Enjoy the music while the getting is good, then scurry off into the night – that’s his motto.

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