For the last eleven years or so, Jimmy Eat World has put out full-lengths that have either been labeled landmark releases that influenced a generation of emo-centric rock bands or gotten fairly respectable praise from fans and critics alike.
The first of them, 1996's Static Prevails saw the then young Mesa, Arizona quartet making a raw, melodic but mostly emo-core record that only hinted at its top-notch songwriting abilities. 1999's Clarity, though criminally under-marketed by their former label Capitol Records, slowly but surely solidified Jimmy Eat World's reputation at home and abroad as one of the best and most influential bands in the emo genre.
Commercial and radio hits, however, didn't come until Jimmy Eat World released Jimmy Eat World (a.k.a. Bleed American) in 2001. Though it contained an emo hit ("Sweetness") written in the Clarity era, this record was more in the power pop vein than any previous release. It was such a big hit that songs like "The Middle," "Sweetness," "Authority Song" and others have gone on to be featured in everything from sports stadiums to movies and in the case of "The Middle," covered by local cover bands or ripped off by newer so-called "emo" bands.
2004's Futures, in contrast to prior releases, had a darker sound and mood, but wasn't a commercial hit. Still, fans and critics mostly praised it, and even on the band's current tour, the few songs from the album that make their set list get loud cheers.
So, does Chase This Light (Interscope Records) recapture any of the magic and power of Jimmy Eat World's best records?
In essence, there's a little Clarity on the album, and some of the pop appeal of Jimmy Eat World (a.k.a. Bleed American) as well. For example, first single "Big Casino" has a speedy rhythmic guitar going through its verses that harkens back to Clarity's minor hit "Lucky Denver Mint." It's a heavy power pop number that's getting lots of airplay on modern rock radio, but the song doesn't quite have the catchy vocals to sing along to that their more successful radio hits had.
By contrast, the final track on the album, the incredibly expansive break-up song "Dizzy" will remind older fans of why they fell in love with Jimmy Eat World in the first place. The intensity of Jim Adkins's personal lyrics and the tense and melodic guitars that complement each other as "Dizzy" builds to a crescendo are classic Jimmy Eat World. It's the best song they've written in a long time, IMO.
Elsewhere, strong points on the album include the political and punk-inspired anthem "Electable (Give It Up)," "Firefight," new single "Always Be," and "Carry You." The latter track has a truly memorable chorus and should be a future radio hit. However, like some other tracks on the record, "Carry You" is a bit too pop-friendly in its production, with double octave vocals in the verses and "do-do, do-do-do" background vocals that take away from the personal and passionate vocals Jim Adkins brings to the song.
"Gotta Be Somebody's Blues" has a live string section conducted by David Campbell, but they are the song's highest point, as the hushed nature of Adkins's vocals isn't very appealing. This is not to say that it's a bad song. There is not a "bad" song on Chase This Light, just some songs that do not entice you to hit the repeat button on your CD player.
There is one song, however that is bound to cause mixed reaction among Jimmy Eat World's older and newer fans. "Here It Goes," found in the last half of the album, is basically a dance-pop rock number with a bass line straight out of '80s pop. It's the most un-Jimmy Eat World song of all-time, IMO, but it is infectious and hard to resist.
Taken together, Chase This Light is a largely satisfying power pop rock record with hints of what used to be their trademark emo anthems. While it certainly will get more spins in my CD player than Futures and Static Prevails, it's not quite on par with emo masterpieces like Clarity and the near perfect power pop of Bleed American CD. In fact, this record suffers at times from super slick, pop-oriented production and perhaps too much of it overall – in a too-many-cooks-spoil-the-broth kind of way – with the legendary Butch Vig serving as executive producer, while Chris Testa, John Fields, and the band serve as co-producers.
Ultimately, like many 2007 releases, Chase This Light isn't an instant classic but is definitely worth owning if you've been a Jimmy Eat World fan all these years. In Pitchfork fashion, I'd give it a 7.8 out of 10.
Also, check out a Windows Media audio clip of the new single "Always Be".