There’s a double-edged sword associated with being a band that winds up capturing the emotion and angst of a particular generation. How many high schoolers in the early 2000s cite powerpop act Jimmy Eat World’s Bleed American as part of their life soundtrack? (Answer: it’s a lot.) From one standpoint, it’s the best measure of success for a band, because it not only gives them plenty of exposure and helps them sell records, but it also establishes a solid and loyal fanbase that can carry them for years.
But here’s the other side of the sword: people grow up—or at least, they should. The band grows up, and so do their fans. Eventually the sound and vibe that defined a generation becomes dated. When that happens, the challenge is how to continue creating music that is current without compromising the sound that fans have come to expect. Granted, some bands like Iggy and the Stooges just ignore the whole age thing and turn into old guys writing songs like they were still 15. But they are the exception; not everyone can pull that off.
Let’s face it—the guys in Jimmy Eat World are not kids anymore; they’re in their mid-30s. How do they act their age as a band while still producing solid powerpop emo for their fans?
With their seventh studio release Damage, somehow they’ve struck that near-perfect balance. Frontman Jim Adkins touted this album as a “breakup album for adults,” and that’s a description that fits remarkably well. The lyrics are written from a grown-up perspective, and while the sound still reminds us of high school days, the musicality and production value are more mature—intense but not overstated. From the solid opening rockers “Appreciation” and “Damage” to devastating ballads like “Please Say No,” “Byebyelove” and “You Were Good,” the sound is “young” enough to retain current fans and even attract newer ones, but it sounds more like a band that has come of age than a band trying to hold onto the past. I don’t know how they did it, but it works.
While Adkins took a little heat for his more cerebral approach to 2010’s Invented, to his credit, he dug deeper into the realm of personal emotion for Damage—a move that is certain to connect with the listener at a stronger level—but the lyrics still reflect the thoughtfulness that comes with age. As Adkins ruminates on “Book Of Love” about his disillusionment (“The book of love is fiction / Written by the loneliest to sing”), or on “Please Say No” about the complex impulses in meeting with his ex (“Me with you is who I think I’ll always be”), we are drawn into the moment because it feels honest and authentic. We believe him.
Damage is probably not likely to rival the kind of success generated by the likes of Chase This Light and Bleed American—not that it couldn’t—but as a work of art, it stands in my opinion as the right album at the right time for Jimmy Eat World. They have created a mature rock album for people who are too old for high school but who are not ready to retire to easy listening. If there could be an “elder statesman” band for the powerpop genre, Jimmy Eat World have put themselves in the running. Hats off to them.