Monday, October 25, 2004

58. Jimmy Eat World - Futures (2004)

Is it possible to be proud of people you've never met? I first started listening to Jimmy Eat World in 1996, and they were just one of the unknown bands my roommate Nick had turned me on to. We went and saw them a couple of times in '96 and '97, in small venues with crowds of no more than 50 people. I listened to their 1999 album Clarity obsessively and for awhile I thought it brought me good luck (I was listening to it when I got the phone call telling me I got a job in Minneapolis).

So when the band blew up in 2001 with the album Bleed American and the hit The Middle, it was strange, but satisfying. Suddenly here they were performing on Saturday Night Live and MTV, their songs being used in the Super Bowl, and friends were actually asking me about them. Emo fans are notoriously hip and fickle, and, unlike myself, some fans felt the pop-oriented material on Bleed American was an obvious stab at stardom. The fact that it was semi-successful burned them even more. According to them, the intention to sell out was bad enough, but the fact that it made your little sister like the band? Unforgivable.

It's hard not to hear the new song Nothingwrong as a reaction to this. The aggressive track features the lyrics: "Turn them off, our blacklist singers" and not long after, "don't make a scene / on 45." Now it could just be taken as an anti-censorship song, but they sing with so much conviction, you've gotta think it's about something more personal, a defiant statement of purpose.

If they could find it in their hearts to forgive, I think fans would find this record to be much more in line with the Jimmy they loved. Things are darker and more passionate and powerful than on Bleed American, and while the songs don't have that immediate sugar rush, they insinuate themselves. When discussing first impressions of the album with a friend I told him that no one song had grabbed me the way Blister, Opener, Lucky Denver Mint, or A Praise Chorus had on previous albums. On my next listen of the album, things started to take hold!

Take the title track for example. It opens the album with these lines: "I always believed in futures / I hope for better / in November." Is there a more topical sentiment among truly concerned citizens right now? I can only hope those lines won't ring hollow come next Wednesday. The song itself represents that optimism with a soaring chorus that's becoming a Jimmy Eat World trademark.

Work employs that same trademark, with a hook that pleads: "Can we take a ride / get out of this place while we still have time?" Even when I'm completely happy with where I'm at, this sentiment will always connect with me, because I know how it feels long for escape. Liz Phair provides very understated backing vocals to this one.

The World You Love would have fit very nicely into Bleed American, and is, to my ear, a clear choice for a single. As I've heard, Pain isn't doing too poorly for itself, but this one might have knocked it out of the park. It's one of those songs that sounds happy but really isn't. In fact the chorus claims: "We're only just as happy / as everyone else seems to think we are."

The epic center of the album is a 6 minute piano ballad called Drugs or Me. The title really sums it up. I've never had anyone close to me addicted to drugs, but I imagine I'd feel exactly like this. The narrator tells his loved one that he barely recognizes her anymore and asks, his voice barely holding on, that she "keep [his] heart / somewhere drugs don't go." It's the aural equivalent of a really good, bracing movie... it lets you actually feel something you've never actually been through.

Polaris is the album's best song. The guitars are atmospheric, the lyrics anguished, the vocals passionate, the drums and bass pounding, and the chorus, of course, soaring.

After 8 strong songs, the album's only stumble is the pairing of Nothingwrong and Night Drive, the albums weakest cuts, in the 9 and 10 spots. The latter is a sentimental retelling of a dalliance in a car (I'm assuming it's nostalgic because the guys in the band are a bit too old to still be going to Makeout Point). It's one of those things that probably means a lot to the person who wrote it, but just doesn't translate well to the rest of us. Anyway, Death Cab did it better with We Looked Like Giants.

Luckily, the album closer, 23, gets things back on track. An epic (over 7 minutes) rumination on a lost relationship, it connects where Night Drive doesn't.

I find it interesting that an album called Futures ends on two songs so concerned with the past. I guess that should tell us something. In the past, Jimmy Eat World were a band I worshipped, and the same is looking to be true in the future.

Rating: A-
Fave Song: Polaris

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