Jimmy Eat World is one of the first bands I can remember loving. Some of my fondest memories are of my sister or brother driving me around, with “Sweetness” or “Big Casino” blasting out the open windows. Each of their albums since 1996’s major label debut Static Prevails holds some type of importance to me, and now I can add the band’s ninth studio album, Integrity Blues, to that list.
One of this band’s greatest strengths is to pull off a variety of styles with ease: Static Prevails was the punk rock cousin of Christie Front Drive’s Stereo; Clarity slowed down that sound and filled it out with strings and piano; Futures was a moody alt-rock record; Chase This Light went in the complete opposite direction, foraying into powerpop territory. No matter the feeling, the band has a song to capture it. Enter Integrity Blues, which runs the gamut of sounds the band’s played (save the more abrasive style of Static Prevails) and throws in a variety of new styles. It’s rare for a band nine albums in to release an album as refreshing and invigorating as this one, but Jimmy Eat World has never been quite a typical band.
Indeed, Integrity Blues almost plays like a greatest hits style album. “Get Right,” a dark and heavy (for this band) rock song, recalls the bite of previous singles like “Bleed American,” “Pain,” and “My Best Theory.” The album’s should-be hit single is “Sure and Certain,” which carries the broody but anthemic vibe that made Futures so beloved, complete with one of the most immediate hooks the band’s ever penned and a beautiful, post-rock leaning instrumental bridge. “You Are Free” feels like the quintessential Jimmy Eat World song, a mix of everything that fans about this band look for. They even throw back to the Clarity sound with the gorgeous “The End Is Beautiful,” a string-laden emo song that feels like a trimmed-down, modern take on that album’s seven-minute centerpiece “Just Watch the Fireworks.”
But don’t think for a second the band is just retreading old hits. The first minute of the opening “You with Me” should clear that up, as synths wash back and forth over electronic drums and a jaunty guitar line. It’s a complete departure from previous openers like “Futures,” “Bleed American,” or “Appreciation,” which kick things into gear from the second you press play. Electronics rear their head again on the creepy, vibey “Pass the Baby.” What’s sure to be one of the most divisive songs in the band’s catalog morphs from a plodding trance song into a hard rock jam session. It’s one of the most creative songs I’ve heard all year, not to mention in their discography. The other most unique song on the album is its dreamlike title track, built only on ambient organs, subtle horns, and Jim Adkins’ soothing voice. The sparseness of the track gives extra weight to Adkins’ words.
That song – and, to an extent, the entire album – as he described in a letter to fans, is “about throwing away your default responses to life…becoming willing to accept the best any of us have is to be in a state of progress.” The song captures the desire to improve oneself and be the best you can be, not for anyone else, but because it’s what you know you need. Or, as Adkins himself puts it, “it’s all what you do when no one’s there.” Other songs in the album build off this theme, tying the record together in a way the band’s only ever attempted before on Damage, and, just like that album, this one sees Adkins consciously working to better himself and looking for the good in his situation. He finds it in the chorus of “The End Is Beautiful,” where he lets an old lover (or himself) know that “it doesn’t have to hurt anymore.” He finds it in “You Are Free,” when he declares that “you are free, as much as you can stand to be. You are free, and it’s anything you think that means.” He finds it in the album’s closer, “Pol Rodger,” the culmination of those desires for self-improvement and self-acceptance. Any Jimmy Eat World fan knows that the band reserves their most epic statements for their closers, and “Pol Rodger” is no different.
Moody and ever-building in the way that Futures highlights “Polaris” and “23” were, “Pol Rodger” runs through, in nearly seven minutes, the entire emotional arc of the record. The song’s verses describe Adkins retreating to his room, giving himself some time to “let the world go dark, wondering where you are.” It’s reflective, but it isn’t shameful or defeated – make no mistake, he’s “alone, but not lonely.” He emerges better for it in the song’s booming chorus as he shakes off his and friends’ doubts, declaring, “Yeah, there’s every chance you could crash if you don’t believe it.” But he does believe it, and he knows he won’t crash. The record’s most cathartic moment follows as Adkins shouts perhaps the album’s most central line, “Love don’t come to you, who knew? It just was there always.” It echoes that of “23,” wherein he’d sung, “You’ll sit alone forever if you wait for the right time, what are you hoping for? I’m here, I’m now, I’m ready.” The difference between the two is that on “23” he sounded like he was still trying to convince himself. On “Pol Rodger,” he’d felt it for himself.
I wouldn’t be able to disagree with anyone who called “Pol Rodger” Adkins’ finest work lyrically. I think I’d just be amazed at the way that, nine albums in, the band’s still finding new ways to top themselves, to reinvent themselves, to push their sound in new directions. For anyone paying attention, there should be no doubt by now: Jimmy Eat World is one of the best rock bands on the planet. Integrity Blues doesn’t prove that; it’s been obvious for a while now. But Integrity Blues is the band’s best album in seven years, and it’s proof that they’re never slowing down. It’s the sort of album that could only have been made by veterans, the sort makes you feel the butterflies again.
Integrity Blues is out October 21st. Pre-order your copy here.