It says a lot to Jimmy Eat World’s relative lack of adventurousness that the biggest surprise with Survivng comes in how short the interim between announcement and release was. That might sound like a criticism, but it couldn’t be further from one; Jimmy Eat World’s knack for embracing the most earnest and heartfelt stripes of rock music has always been a key asset for them, so much so that they’re one of incredibly few bands for whom it can be definitively claimed have never had a bad album. They’ve had the odd wobble here and there (2013’s Damage springs to mind), but nothing that can called a failure, and that’s why playing to what’s expected never feels like a bad look for Jimmy Eat World. The fact that they’re yet to drain their melodic resources just shows how much longevity the brand of emo has, and with early single All The Way (Stay) sticking resolutely to the strengths they’ve always made clear, Surviving immediately gives off the impression of being just another Jimmy Eat World album, but in the best way possible.
And yes, that does sound like a pretty monumental cop-out, but it’s worth acknowledging that for a band like Jimmy Eat World with classic albums and timeless 2000s rock hits under their belt, they’re deserving of being judged a bit more relativistically, especially when they’ve not changed all that much. Then again, relying solely on caveats like that enormously diminishes the fact that Surviving really is a quality album on its own merits, and fits perfectly in the line of strong releases that even modern-day Jimmy Eat World have been able to keep up. It’s not up to their best, but that would be a tough ask in any situation, and the fact that it’s not really expected to be allows what is so good here to shine on its own.
What that is in particular largely boils down to the classic Jimmy Eat World songwriting technique, putting beautifully lush but infectious melodies to the front and giving Jim Adkins all the room needed to show a vocal earnestness that really continues to go unmatched with regards to how endearing his everyman persona is. There’s a classicism to the chiming, rippling guitars of Delivery and the rousing, big-hearted strides of All The Way (Stay), but with just enough modern touches to prevent too much stagnation, with the faintest whirrs of synth in the former and glorious saxophone solo that rounds off the latter. In truth, Jimmy Eat World’s inherent timelessness means that such concessions aren’t really needed, but they’re refreshing and unobtrusive enough to add to the sound without stripping anything away, and feel like a more tasteful representation of modern pop-rock’s morbid fascination with sloughing off everything about it that could possibly be even considered rock. And to be honest, it’s not like Jimmy Eat World are totally immune, especially given how out of place the gurgling synthetic bass and beat are on 555, but even then, there’s at least layering and modulation that keeps everything at a relatively even keel.
As for the more direct, straight-up rock leaning side of Surviving, it does feel like a necessary change of pace, but the disparity in quality between in and Jimmy Eat World’s softer, emo-leaning side does stand pretty evident. For one, Adkins’ vocals do have a thinness when trying to combat the brunt of garage-rock-esque force on a track like Criminal Energy, and when it’s all attempted to be opened out more for the six-minute closer Congratulations, it’s a limp across the finish line when compared to how longer tracks like Just Watch The Fireworks or My Sundown have previously used their greater size to their advantage. That’s not to begrudge the band’s choice to have these moments either, especially when there’s an impressive consistency in the production quality that doesn’t feel as though it has to stoop to dour, sludgy tones to make an impression, but it’s where the need for relative judgement with Jimmy Eat World feels the most apparant; on their own, they’re fine, but in the context of a catalogue that’s already done a lot more, there’s a little flatness there.
The same could definitely be argued for the content too, although Jimmy Eat World have such a way of capturing big, heartfelt emotions and turning them into true gems that seeing Surviving basically doing that all over again isn’t really an issue. It’s a perfectly valid foundation for an album centred around forgoing the weight that modern life so frequently bears down on everyone, and in the likes of the title track and the self-care anthem Diamond, the band slip into their guise of openness and warmth so easily. That’s doubly true when it comes to the relationship-centric songs, with the beautiful atmosphere of Delivery serving as the perfect backdrop for the sort of evocative writing and standout lines that are just peak Jimmy Eat World, and the slight goofiness of One Mil about being awkward in the face of love that’s hard not to endeared by. It’s not really mind-blowing stuff, and this far into their career, Jimmy Eat World have hit beats like this a good few times already, but they’re undeniably good at it, and it’s not like the emotional sources they’re drawing from have a visible rust that’s holding them back in any way.
But all of that is Jimmy Eat World to a T, just like we’ve already established. They’ve honed this formula down to a fine art at this point, and rather than making it feel formulaic, there’s a naturalness and humanness that permeates throughout Surviving that’s refreshingly pure to see. Even if they aren’t hitting the soaring peaks they once were, Surviving is yet another high-quality moment in a catalogue that’s effectively been nothing but, and sense of passion and spark that continues to go into Jimmy Eat World’s work makes it all feel so righteously earned. Even if, like a lot of their more recent material, this won’t be a slept-on classic in the making, as yet another pillar of strength to a career that’s among the most stable and sturdy in modern music at this stage, Surviving does everything it needs to to not only survive, but thrive.
For fans of: The Get Up Kids, Saves The Day, Motion City Soundtrack
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Surviving’ by Jimmy Eat World is released on 18th October on RCA Records.