I’m not sure I have ever anticipated a new album with quite the furor that I anticipated Jimmy Eat World’s Chase This Light in the fall of 2007. Futures had been a game-changer for me, the album that transformed me from a budding music listener into a voracious, lifelong die-hard. As often happens when you’re young, the three years that stretched between the October 19, 2004 release of Futures and the October 16, 2007 release of Chase This Light seemed to last an eternity. (I was 13 when the former came out and 16 for the arrival of the latter.) The wait was eased a bit by the 2005 release of the Stay on My Side Tonight EP, but the dark, moody nature of those songs only made me want a full-length. An album packed of songs like “Disintegration” and “Closer”? Count me in.
Chase This Light was decidedly not that record. Futures gave the band two basic paths forward. The first was to embrace the moody, late night autumnal vibe that manifested on songs like “Polaris” and “23.” That path evidently led to Stay on My Side Tonight, which was made up of songs the band had written for Futures but hadn’t finished or put on the record. The second possible path was for Jimmy Eat World to keep following their arc as a glossy studio band. They’d made Futures with Gil Norton, a well-respected rock producer known for making big, robust rock albums. Futures sounded appropriately huge, and there was some feeling—particularly in radio singles like “Pain” and “Work”—that Jimmy Eat World could be a massive radio rock band for the new millennium if they wanted to be. They could prove that “The Middle” wasn’t just a fluke hit.
That path led to Chase This Light, which was and is Jimmy Eat World’s biggest-sounding, glossiest, most pop-influenced record. They brought in Butch Vig to executive produce, hired Chris Lord-Alge to handle mixing, and wrote songs like “Big Casino” and “Always Be” that had truly massive earworm choruses. It wasn’t their fault that radio rock died a swift death between the fall of 2004—when bands like Green Day and The Killers were delivering radio hit after radio hit—and the fall of 2007. The singles from Chase This Light still did relatively well: “Big Casino” went to number 3 on the rock charts and hit the “Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles” chart. But Jimmy Eat World evidently weren’t destined to become a radio band, and Chase This Light didn’t fundamentally change their fanbase or their general narrative.
Monitoring the release of Chase This Light at the time, I remember that some fans were put off by the poppy sound and muscular arrangements. Gone was any trace of the rawer emo sound that had characterized Static Prevails or Clarity. Instead, Jimmy Eat World made a record that—sonically, at least—mirrored its bright, colorful album cover. For a fair chunk of the early fanbase, Chase This Light probably marked the beginning of the end for Jimmy Eat World. Such fans are easy to spot these days: they hail the trio of Clarity, Bleed American, and Futures as the band’s peak and have little use for anything that came after.
Personally, I didn’t buy into any of that. I’d become a Jimmy Eat World fan with Futures. I liked their glossier sound. I mostly didn’t think Clarity was all it was cracked up to be. (I’ve since recanted on this point.) And I was at a moment in my life where I really needed a record like Chase This Light—a record that sounded anthemic and hopeful, but one where, if you actually paid attention to the lyrics, you’d hear the sharp singe of heartbreak and the bitter ache of doubt and regret.
Chase This Light is the saddest Jimmy Eat World record. It doesn’t sound like it on first blush. Storming out of the gates with the propulsive “Big Casino,” Chase This Light stacks five straight anthems before hitting its first ballad. Those song sound bright and cheerful, too. “Let it Happen” has a refrain that goes “I can laugh it off/Ha ha ha ha ha ha,” while “Always Be” kicks off with finger snaps. Spend a few moments going over the lyrics, though, and these songs morph from blissful pop jams into cruelly catchy confections of heartbreak. “Big Casino,” for instance, is packed with regret and delusions of grandeur, told from the perspective of an aging dreamer who still thinks he’s going to get his big break. “I’ll accept with poise, with grace/When they draw my name from the lottery,” Jim Adkins sings in the chorus, envisioning himself as the guy whose hand everyone will want to shake. He knows it’s not happening (hence the bridge, “I have one last wish/And it’s from the heart/Just let me down/Just let me down easy”), but he’s willing to fantasize.
“Always Be,” meanwhile” is a quintessential boy-loses-girl song. The first verse picks up in the middle of a late-night drive, mere hours before a relationship fractures. “I’ll force a laugh to break the silence,” Jim Adkins sings, before acknowledging that “It’s gonna get harder still/Before it gets easy.” The couple in this song has grown so distant that they can’t even communicate with each other anymore—not even when they’re sitting in the front seat of the same car on a lonely dark highway, with nothing but fake, nervous laughter to cut the tension. (Don’t ask me why they didn’t just turn on the damn radio.) “She’ll always be/A little hard for me to reach,” goes the key line in the chorus, and if it’s not the most gutting thing Jimmy Eat World ever wrote, it’s close.
Don’t even get me started on “Carry You,” a song about being so hung up on a former flame that you get stuck in a feedback loop of the memories you have of them. “Here’s to living in the moment, ‘cause it passed,” Adkins sings in the chorus. The protagonist in this song can’t stop building up this old, dead relationship in his head. He’s probably built it up so much that he remembers things as being better than they ever actually were. He’s created a total fantasy based on the relationship he could have had, and he legitimately can’t let it go. The most cutting line is “Roll down the windows, let the cold air come in/Slap my face just to feel you somehow again,” because even remembering the worst moments of the relationship is apparently better to this guy than letting go and moving on.
And then there’s “Dizzy,” an arguable contender for the title of “best Jimmy Eat World song” (and probably for “best song of the 2000s” as well). “Dizzy” was actually the second song I heard off Chase This Light. When this album came out, it was still a few months before I figured out how and where to watch for album leaks. My brother snagged the leak, though, and he sent me “Dizzy” via email, saying something like “You have to hear this now. I think it might be the best thing they’ve ever done.” In the weeks that it took for the album to come out and make its way to me, I played that song dozens, maybe even hundreds of times. There was an ache to it that wasn’t quite like any other song I’d ever heard. It seemed simultaneously hopeful and completely hopeless—like the relationship at the center of it might be salvageable, but also maybe not worth saving.
10 years later, “Dizzy” still hits me like a bag of bricks to the gut. While “23” is my go-to favorite JEW song, Jim Adkins has never been more on his game as a lyricist than he was on “Dizzy.” Expressions of affection that seem to be meant for someone else; desperate late night calls from a payphone, leading to nowhere but a lonely answering machine; conversations that go around and around in circles without either person saying what they really need to say. “Do you hear the conversation we talk about?” Jim Adkins asks in the explosive chorus. In the acoustic version, it’s “Do you hear the conversation we talk around?” The boy and the girl in this song, they both know it’s over, but neither has the guts to say the words. Ironically, that stubborn reluctance to tear off the band-aid ends up making everything exponentially more painful for both parties. “You said you’ve never have regrets/Jesus, is there someone yet/Who got that wish?” Jim Adkins sings on the bridge, before asking “Did you get yours, babe?” We don’t get the answer in the lyrics, but we know it’s a “No.” In the kind of relationship this song describes, no one gets out without regrets.
I can still remember every moment I spent with these songs in the fall of 2007, blasting them as I drove around town with my newly-minted driver’s license, or leaning on them at the end of a few exceedingly hard days. I recall being struck by how good it felt to hear Adkins’ voice again, how listening to this album those first few times felt like reconvening and commiserating with an old friend. Even by Thanksgiving break, a month and change after the album hit the streets, I was still spinning it religiously, reveling in the hooks of “Here It Goes” or “Chase This Light” and wondering why this sound couldn’t be on the radio.
These days, it’s hard for an album to take hold of my life like that. With so many records to listen to and streaming services always there to give us instant accessibility, most of us are scattered in our focus when it comes to music. It’s rare now that a new album will get even a week out of me without sharing real estate with half a dozen other LPs. Jimmy Eat World, though, is one of the few bands that can still command my undivided attention. Last year, I went on a road trip right after I got my hands on Integrity Blues. I listened to it five times in about eight hours of total driving time. Still, without Chase This Light, I don’t know if Jimmy Eat World would have ever become that band for me. Futures made me a fan, but Chase This Light immortalized them as an all-time favorite. It branded its hooks, pristine sound, and devastating lyrics onto my soul during one of the most tumultuous years of my life. In doing so, it made Jimmy Eat World a band that I could never turn away from.
A few years ago, when I wrote about Futures and how it inspired my obsessive love of music, I called it “a lightning bolt to the heart.” Chase This Light may not have been the commercial success it should have been, but it did prove to me that lightning could strike the same place twice—at least when it came to my own personal connection with music. Futures kept me afloat when I was 13 and staring down the possibility that I’d have to leave my hometown and move someplace where I didn’t know anyone, right before high school started. Chase This Light came along and did the same thing when I was 16, buckling under the pressures of school, adolescence, romantic confusion, and the lead role in a high school musical where I had to bear the brunt of an emotionally abusive director.
Since then, every single Jimmy Eat World album has found me at exactly the right time: Invented in the autumn where I navigated through the euphoria of young love and the loneliness of a long distance relationship; Damage as I wrapped up my final weeks of college and bid farewell to my friends and the town we’d called home for four years; and Integrity Blues as a chaotic election year and a fractured world had me yearning for the simpler angst of my youth. For some Jimmy Eat World fans, Chase This Light was the end of the line. I’m proud to be one of the people for whom it was just the beginning.