Photo Credit: Facebook @JimmyEatWorld
“It’s gonna seem so hard // It’s gonna feel so hard // Until you want the work more than the reward,” Jimmy Eat World sing on “Love Never,” one of the best tracks from their tight and formidable new album Surviving. These lyrics may well be a reflection of the band’s own situation, since a half-dozen full releases later Jimmy Eat World have yet to reproduce the commercial success of their 2001 breakthrough album Bleed American. Despite the triumph of that single release, the Mesa, Arizona rockers may have always been a band for which the concise niche is a bit indeterminate. Jimmy Eat World is probably not quite punk enough for even mall punk, yet somehow they’re still a bit too raw and edgy for the Dave Matthews crowd. Although in a perfect world, talent would outweigh simple categorization, and as Bleed American did, Surviving also shows that this band does have more than its share of the former.
Surviving opens with the title track, a fairly standard rocker anchored by a guitar riff that should grab listeners’ attention, if not quite their imagination. By contrast, “Criminal Energy” from the title alone suggests a rock track with bit more distinction and raw defiance, and even throws out the album’s first curve with an Eighties style new wave instrumental break. Jimmy Eat World then continues to showcase their ability to create more uniqueness when the introspective “Delivery” drops off the album’s first mid-tempo, Fountains of Wayne-type tune. The song has a strong and hook-y chorus and bridge, ensuring that “Delivery” definitely delivers. “One Mil,” is another superior cut, a classic gotta-meet-the-girl song (“I could waste one million chances // Before you’re gone // Before I know your name”) that keeps the listener on their toes with a Foo Fighters-like teeter between a semi-acoustic verse and an explosive chorus, and even offers up an additional surprise with an instrumental break which recalls Billy Idol’s “Dancing with Myself”.
Jimmy Eat World does almost a complete 360 with “555,” a synth number which sounds just a bit too much like yet another attempt to jump on the bandwagon driven by acts with the likeness of Lorde. The boy band-sounding chorus also probably won’t win many favors, but in the end Jimmy does get it all to somehow work. The band kicks off the second half of Surviving by going back to a more streamlined riff-based rocker with “All the Way (Stay),” but also sticks to the themes of introspection with lyrics concerning a love that has yet to be met. The bar-band feel of the overall song is driven home by a brief appearance of a Springsteen-type saxophone solo and female backup singers. “Diamond” is cut from the same Eighties AOR stone, sounding as though it could be an old one from .38 Special or Bryan Adams.
The aforementioned “Love Never,” however, is probably Jimmy Eat World at their best and most characteristic. The album’s shortest track, it also comes off as the most fully realized, throwing in more touches of an Eighties synth riff at just the right moments. The overall song is rocker that is undeniably genuine and emotional (hey, that’s why they called it “emo” in the first place). By contrast, unfortunately, closing track “Congratulations” – which, also being the longest one, is clearly intended to serve as the grand finale – is just a bit too much all over the place, trying at once to be a Peter Gabriel-inspired up-tempo art rock song and a riff-driven punk anthem. Yet, in context the song may well cap off the album nicely. Surviving makes it clear that on the cusp of 2020, Jimmy Eat World is not only doing just that, but they’re still hungry as well.