It’s a tough world out there for pop bands. In order to make the best of their lot, and appeal to the masses, they usually have to be billed as “guilty pleasures” or are forced to parade around under some genre hybridization for the sole sake of avoiding the dirty p-word. Yet somehow, through it all, Jimmy Eat World has managed to navigate through all of this fog and mudslinging to the point where they have transcended traditional criticisms. Perhaps it is because they are one of the few multi-platinum groups to still do club tours, or maybe just because they have so consistently upheld their own high standard for the past decade and a half. Either way, the band has attained a position of prominence in modern music and it is from this perch that they release their sixth studio album, Chase This Light.
It is fair to say that most everyone to visit Jimmy Eat World’s latest offering has a solid frame of expectations. From the universally adored Clarity to the breakout success ofBleed American, and onto the more ominous Futures, the boys have been distributing catchy, thoughtful, and enjoyable tunes of the same brand for a long while. As such, it is easier to anticipate reactions to the tracks on Chase This Light. To be brief, fans of the band will be extremely satisfied.
After the darker undertones of Futures and Stay On My Side Tonight, it is almost jarring to be greeted by the upbeat, frantic pace of the Bleed American-ish “Big Casino.” With its huge hook and exuberant energy, it is a great opening track. But as the tracks that follow reveal, it is a questionable choice for a single – not because the song is weak at all, but because there are tunes on Chase This Light that handily surpass its appeal. Case in point – see its follower, “Let It Happen.” A slightly less sunny cut from the outset, the song is more in the vein of its Futures brethren, but flexes its dynamic muscle when the explosive chorus hits, ending with the triumphant line, “Say whatever you want, ‘cause I can laugh it off.” Such snippets offer up some of the most telling insights into the nature of Jim Adkins’ lyrics – they are never terribly involved, or dressed up in flowery syntax, but they resonate in their simplicity and tendency to be so endearingly empowering. Jimmy Eat World is the master of the underdog anthem, and Chase This Light only cements that trophy.
The rest of Jimmy’s studio cache hands out a refreshing bit of diversity. There are cotton-candy sugary pop tunes in the snappy-intro’d “Always Be” and the chanting gang vocal hook of “Electable (Give It Up)” (think a slightly smarter, sharper-edged version of “Sweetness”). But we don’t get overdosed on rainbows and butterflies, as the middle of the record exposes a darker tint to the group’s trademark pop sound. “Carry You” is a more subdued acoustically-centered number that yields enough to let Adkins’ lyrics and vocals shine – fitting since the tune was originally slated for use in his side project. When Jim belts out, “I could never be the one that you want/ Don’t ask/ So here’s to living in the moment/ Cause it passed” his angst and emotion are palpable in a perfectly inflected voice – ingredients that let a small-time pop number become so much more than it otherwise might have been. “Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues” could have been stripped right from the cutting room floor of Stay On My Side Tonight, with its pensive string accents and brooding vocals. The song is ultimately less likeable as a result, but is still a fair respite from the bubble-gum tone otherwise set by the record.
Thankfully doom and gloom is not the name of the game for the Arizona crew, and they seem to know it. They kick it into peppy gear once more thereafter, with the bouncy straight-forwardness of “Feeling Lucky” and “Chase This Light” – which bookend perhaps the catchiest song Jimmy Eat World has ever written with “Here It Goes.” An unexpectedly dancy number, the tune is just one of those sublime pieces that is an unquestionable hit from first listen – the type that brightens up your mood and makes you sing along, no matter how pissed off you are at the world. In fact, it is the most addicting song I have heard since All American Rejects’ “Move Along”, and quite possibly the song that will drive Chase This Light into platinum territory.
It is unfortunate that Chase This Light loses its momentum in the final tracks, as “Firefight” is really rather boring, but “Dizzy” picks up the pieces to some extent for a grandiose album exit. The abundance of string tracks might put off minimalists who are looking for clutter-free assertions, but Chase This Light is a big record, and it is fitting that it gets a big closer. The album ends triumphantly for a band that is itself a triumph – the type of troupe that reminds us it is okay to love pop music and not be embarrassed by it. It is tough to rank Chase This Light among a largely adored catalog, and really, it serves little purpose. All that anyone needs to know is that this record will make you feel good about music and life, and if the staying power of the bands’ past records is any indication, it will continue to do so for quite a while.