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Jimmy Eat World - Surviving (Album Review)

Tuesday, 22 October 2019 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Oliver Halfin

They say you have to go there to come back, so let’s be thankful Jimmy Eat World ventured down a more melancholy and moribund path on 2016’s ‘Integrity Blues’, a predominantly acoustic, almost dreamlike pop affair that largely declared a moratorium on rip-roaring electric guitars.

Rebounding with a more vital and characteristic sounding record, albeit one flavoured with some sweet new moves, ‘Surviving’ is the sugar rush fans of the band’s early post millennial work have craved for far too long. A few years ago the Arizona quartet’s singer and guitarist Jim Adkins quit drinking and dug deep into his psyche in order to conquer a debilitating internal resistance that left him feeling like “a prisoner in his own body.”

Written in the aftermath of that epiphany, you can immediately feel—in the energy, passion and freedom of these songs—that he’s connected to this music in a way we haven’t heard since the band’s halcyon days.

Whether it’s the magnificent Diamond or Love Never, with the former comparing patience in search of personal growth to the maturation period of a precious jewel, and the latter asking if we “want the work more than the reward” when it comes to bettering ourselves, it’s instantly clear he’s poured every ounce of himself into tracks that, offering just the right amount of spit, sawdust and polish, buzz with irrepressible purpose.

One of the problems with ‘Integrity Blues’ was that its songs, although possessing some nice melodies, had already been forgotten by the time the record ended. In contrast, the hooks on ‘Surviving’ unpack their bags and set up residence in your head before each cut concludes.  

Criminal Energy is their finest bubblegum-metal anthem since ‘Futures’—its spiky and infectious chorus pogoing off some rugged six-string crunchiness and devilish fretboard trilling. Delivery, meanwhile, spins one of those mellifluous, melodic nursery rhymes the band do so well when it’s heart on sleeve time and One Mil could be a back porch jam with Weezer around the turn of the century. 

For all the classic Jimmy attributes, ‘Surviving’ never feels like a calculated attempt to rewind the clock and seamlessly pushes forwards without compromising the band’s trademark sound. The chorus-free title track purrs along on an emo AC/DC boogie, gathering momentum until its pumping rhythms, sharp melodic lines and tumultuous drums crash into a punky shout-along climax. Even All The Way (Stay), which swaggers with a ramshackle Hold Steady meets Thin Lizzy gait before treating us to a timeless Adkins hook, feels fresh thanks to a euphoric ‘80s sax solo that’ll have you throwing bad moves all over the dancefloor. 

Elsewhere, Congratulations is six minutes of hypnotic shock and awe. A brooding and unconstrained epic that smashes together cataclysmic drum beats, soaring backing vocals, teasing breakdowns and a vicious thrashy outro, it would be the record’s biggest twist were it not for the deceptively addictive 555.  An experimental gem that utilises synth bass and 808 snaps, its dreamy falsetto bridge flows into the chorus like pop-era Taylor Swift being answered by the Police. 

Whether you choose to call it a testament to an enduring band’s perseverance, the life-affirming result of some serious self analysis or just a cracking radio friendly album, ‘Surviving’ mixes the old and the new, and the fallout from Adkins finally tackling his blues, in a way that’s resulted in possibly the most unexpected and satisfying return to form you’ll hear this year.

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