Arizona’s alternative rock/power pop legends Jimmy Eat World do not make throwaway albums. They are one of those bands who always records more repeat-worthy songs than not, but who set a new standard in rock that is so high, any future records will be judged by it for as long as they keep making them.
1999’s Clarity is the group’s masterpiece and always will be, as songs like “Crush” and “Ten” set the stage for the commercial emo movement (i.e. Fall Out Boy) in the decade that followed. But other, more pop punk groups (i.e. The Ataris) also followed in the footsteps of the band’s near perfect power pop/post-punk follow-up, 2001’s Bleed American, which featured hits “The Middle” and “Sweetness,” among others. Those two records were the peak of Jimmy Eat World’s creative powers.
And what they, along with its notably more aggressive, emocore-based major label debut Static Prevails (1996) have in common with its recently released seventh LP Invented is producer Mark Trombino (who also drummed for Drive Like Jehu). Can he help bring back the magic of any of those early records (not including the band’s out-of-print self-titled 1994 debut record)?
There are indeed shades of J.E.W.’s 1999 masterpiece throughout the new record, for starters. For example, closer “Mixtape” has a cappella parts somewhat reminiscent of Clarity’s closer “Goodbye Sky Harbor.” But as singable as its chorus is, the slow-moving tune doesn’t come close to the powerful and intense “Dizzy” (from its previous and sixth album, 2007’s Chase This Light), which has to go down as the best album closer in the Jimmy Eat World catalog since the aforementioned “Goodbye Sky Harbor.”
That said, there are quite a few hummable, memorable and rockin’ tracks on Invented. “Heart Is Hard To Find” opens the sound barriers up with heavy acoustics and a warm touch that makes one think the song would fit right in with the Bleed American record.
“Evidence” roars in with its simple but heavy, Drop-D-tuned power chords, presumably played through the band’s powerful Orange amps. Even if you’ve heard this type of tune before, it’s still an improvement over the preceding track and lead single, “My Best Theory,” which struts and strides too hard to be a danceable hit pop song (and is ultimately unmemorable).
Phoenix, Arizona singer Courtney Marie Andrews sings backup on several tracks, including the excellent power pop number “Coffee and Cigarettes.” But it is Rachel Haden who stands out the most of the female guest singers, with her contribution to the musically lovely but lyrically confrontational “Stop.” .
In a bit of a twist, the most aggressive song on here is one not sung by lead singer/guitarist Jim Adkins. Instead, for the first time in 11 years, since “Blister” on the Clarity album, guitarist Tom Linton, who was the original lead singer of the band in the early years, gets his fist-pumping attitude and monster guitar riffs on for a song that he had been working on lyrically for a longtime, “Action Needs An Audience.” What J.E.W. albums need is more Linton-led material like this.
“Littlething” is a another standout, but is a bit overproduced, as it could’ve used less strings. Its midtempo guitar chords and melodies, Clarity-like xylophones (think “Table For Glasses”) and Adkins’ reflective, heartfelt vocals are highlights.
But not all nostalgic numbers are prime time material, as “Higher Devotion” sounds like a too polished pop rock version of a Clarity gem.
The title track sums up the soft-to-loud dynamics of Jimmy Eat World, as it starts out with acoustic guitars, twinkling electronics and soft vocals, with loud guitars briefly intermixed more than halfway through. Some fans will no doubt have ambivalent feelings about the seven-minute song, as the sleepy vocals of the first five minutes can make one’s mind drift off if he/she is not all that into the lyrics. It’s still a well-written tune, but does try one’s patience (this reviewer’s included) while waiting for the uptempo parts to come in during the latter third of it.
Bottom line: Some of the loud parts of the record (“My Best Theory”) and lighter moments (the pop-like vocals on “Cut” and others) sound too commercial and arena rock-friendly, which is not Jimmy Eat World’s specialty. As a whole, Invented has quite a few remarkable tracks, but lacks enough of the strong balance of intimate material and knockout rockers that the band’s best two aforementioned works have. In this regard, the band and Trombino’s reunion is a bit of a letdown, but still a worthy listen for any serious fan.