Album Review: Jimmy Eat World, Chase This Light

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It should be noted at this stage that I’m in no position to review this album objectively. I fell in love with Jimmy Eat World the summer I was 15, and have probably played at least one of their albums at least once a week ever since. Fortunately, any idiot knows that music reviews cannot and should not ever be objective – how can you give a detached opinion on something that by its very nature should aim straight for the heart?

Having got that out of the way; Jimmy Eat World are a band frequently misunderstood, who have charted a deceptively varied musical path in their 14-year career. I would quite happily rate each of their last three albums – 1999’s stunning, heartbreaking Clarity, their adrenaline-charged 2001 breakthrough Bleed American, and 2004’s darker but similarly beautiful Futures – ten out of ten. It seemed that when I first listened to all of them, they managed to exactly match my mood and life situation at the time.

Chase This Light is not a ten out of ten album. It’s flawed. Butch Vig’s production is ludicrously over-the-top at times. The lyrics are perfectly serviceable but lacking in the emotional depth-charges they used to deliver (see 23 and The World You Love on Futures, If You Don’t Don’t on Bleed American, or basically anything on Clarity). The album fails to deliver on the signpost marked by the murky, emotionally wrought standout tracks on 2005’s Stay On My Side Tonight EP, and isn’t anywhere near as cohesive as their previous works (especially Clarity – you can probably tell by know that I consider that album to be a landmark work not only in the emo genre, but for music in general).

However, all of those criticisms are based on the fact that Chase This Light isn’t really the record I was expecting, or perhaps hoping for. Taken on its own merits, Chase This Light reveals itself to be, unexpectedly, a pretty awesome album of straightforward pop-rock. Jimmy Eat World have been slowly bleeding away the emo-tag from their genre classification over the course of their career, and Chase This Light is the moment where you realise they aren’t an emo band any more in any possible sense of the word.

The album sprints out of the blocks with first single Big Casino, which sounds absolutely huge (one of the occasions where Vig’s production definitely works). “I’m the one who gets away, I’m a New Jersey success story,” yells Jim Adkins in one of their finest choruses to date. Chase This Light is chock-full of up-tempo rockers, none quite as brilliant as Big Casino but all of them bright, uplifting and endearing.

Let It Happen and Always Be fly by in a flurry of big, OC-friendly choruses (and I don’t mean that as a slur). The energetic Electable is absurdly catchy, enough so that you don’t mind the vagueness of its political slant. Feeling Lucky is essentially a less-good rewrite of Bleed American’s Authority Song, but something about its guileless enthusiasm makes it hard to resist. Most successfully of all, Here It Goes experiments with synths and danceable beats, resulting in a delirious piece of pure pop that beats Hellogoodbye et al at their own game.

The slower moments provide more mixed results but occasionally great rewards. Gotta Be Somebody’s Blues feels out of place here but is still a welcome throwback to the prevailing mood of Futures, all shuffling unease and queasy strings. Carry You and the title track aren’t exactly weak songs, but they tend to collapse slightly under the weight of their own sappiness. Closing track Dizzy, on the other hand, is quite wonderful, a spiralling emotional climax that sparkles and burns like the most perfect October sunset.

All in all then, there’s a hell of a lot to be enjoyed here, so long as you don’t want it to be something it’s not. Maybe they won’t ever match Clarity, but there’s always room for great pop bands and that’s what Jimmy Eat World are at the moment.

**** (4 stars)

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