Jimmy Eat World
Chase This Light
hen I was 21, I thought mixing giant Captain & Sprites right in the 2-liter bottle was a good way to save time and no personality trait was too arbitrary for me to develop a life-consuming crush on some unfortunate girl. I also picked up Bleed American off the strength of its title track and proceeded to play it on a damn near infinite loop during the summer of 2001. A short time later, this would also be true of Clarity and, to a far lesser extent, Static Prevails. Futures hit those pleasure zones a little less often, but it benefited from context; during its release in the fall of 2004, there was a distinct feeling that anything was possible. We were weeks away from the opportunity to elect a new commander-in-chief, the Red Sox exposed Dan Shaughnessy for the curse-milking hack that he is, Virginia’s football team was in the AP Top Ten, and even T.O. and Donovan McNabb were coexisting peacefully and successfully. Futures was also the last album I listened to before I met the woman I would eventually ask to marry me.
If you’re wondering why I’m bringing any of this up, you’ve probably tuned out this review as quickly as you've tuned out Jimmy Eat World. Because this is the kind of shit they’re all about: despite working in a genre demonized for its self-absorption, Jimmy Eat World always seemed more generous than the average emo act, singing about your early twenty-somethings (most obviously in “23”) and your premature nostalgia for them (most obviously in "The Authority Song"). But there’s always a risk in using your fans as a prism through which to refract your music, and that’s why trying to evaluate Chase This Light is one of the most emotionally complex projects I’ve had to take on as a music critic. I’m 27 years old, engaged, and I’ve got a full-time job and real-life bills. I've changed, but have Jimmy Eat World? Should they? And if Chase This Light doesn’t hit me like their older records, is it because they’ve lost their fastball or because I’m at a point where Jimmy Eat World songs can’t soundtrack my life? If you've been following the band to this point, these questions will likely determine your satisfaction with the record.
At the onset, they’re able to keep those worries at bay. I had a crippling fear that Jim Adkins would be using lead single “Big Casino” as a “life is like a…” device. I wouldn’t put it past him. Instead, it’s their strongest single in years, working an overwhelming chorus that shines despite some of their more curious lyrics; “When they pull my name from the lottery / And they’ll say all the salt in the world couldn’t melt that ice” doesn’t sound like something that would come from the mouth of a “New Jersey success story.” From there, Jimmy Eat World break down their discography to a science—there's the barbed, slightly accusatory rocker ("Let It Happen"), the pedal-pushing, top down singalong ("Always Be"), and the sucrose-laden acoustic bid for airtime ("Carry You," particularly egregious with its "Well here's to living in the moment / Cause it passed" lyric). And then there's the most recent addition, the political barnburner. (In an enormous upset, "Electable (Give It Up)" is more lamentable for its "oh oh!" chorus than its lyrical conceit, which is really too vague to be embarrassing.)
At first, it might seem like Chase This Light is a reactionary record, a reaction to the diminished sales of Futures and the malaise of Stay By My Side Tonight EP, where the band pursued their mid-period Cure leanings headfirst into a brick wall ("Disintegration" wasn't even a cover!). But the real problem is that it's too safe, and it starts at the top with Butch Vig. There have certainly been times in the past where JEW have brandished a love for the stonewashed anthems of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi, and if their intention was to make a tunnel-visioned pursuit of rock radio play, Chase This Light would've been far more interesting if they ponied up whatever it takes to get Mutt Lange out of Shania Twain these days.
Instead, Vig (as he did with Against Me!) trumps Gil Norton's job on Futures with a thick glass coating that takes nearly any human element out of the record. It may seem foolish to apply terms like "ambition" and "experimental" to Jimmy Eat World, but the reason their records are held so dearly in the hearts of their listeners is due in a large part to their big-hearted studio trials that gently nudged at the boundaries of their capabilities and ended up in the Liars-esque 12-minute loop that ended "Goodbye Sky Harbor," the measured, mechanical grace of "Cautioners" or "Night Drive"'s awkward sexuality. The second half of Chase This Light is missionary straight, choked with All American Rejects rejects like "Feeling Lucky" and the title track, as well as the horribly staged studio effects of "Here It Goes." There's not even the big finale to save the thing; I can hardly remember "Firefight" or "Dizzy" after several listens, and I'm not all that inclined to try harder to do so.
So this is what happens when you outgrow a band you loved. Jimmy Eat World are Gin Blossoms. They are the Goo Goo Dolls. Granted, there are worse bands, but no one ever obsessed over New Miserable Experience or Dizzy Up the Girl the way they did over Clarity, and it's hard to believe teenagers will obsess over Chase This Light when they're open to far more options for pop music. But maybe being 27 when this came out is a blessing; right now, it's an album I'm unlikely to play all that much now that I'm done reviewing it. If I was 21, it would be a crushing disappointment I'd probably try to forget about over a giant Captain and Sprite.