If you were a teenager or young adult in 2002 it was virtually impossible to avoid Jimmy Eat World and Bleed American. Seemingly every MTV show, radio station, and summer movie soundtrack was guaranteed to include a song from the album. Being the huge hit that it was, the album and band, driven by their earnest yet literate lyricism, plaintive vocals, and Pop-Punk energy, propelled “Emo” into the mainstream spotlight and virtually set the template for the next half-decade of mainstream rock music.
But then a curious thing happened; the band all but disappeared from the mainstream eye. While bands like My Chemical Romance and Fall Out Boy continued riding the crest of Emo’s popularity, Jimmy Eat World largely faded into the background by evolving and maturing. While their music was still mostly anthemic guitar-driven power pop and the lyrics sensitive and confessional, they dealt with the issues of growing from their 20’s into their 30’s, which largely failed to resonate with Emo’s fanbase of teens and early-twenty-somethings. Ultimately, it was the band’s own honesty, both emotional and musical, that ushered them out of the spotlight. However, this honesty and willful refusal to continue tapping into the receding angst of their youth also solidified their core fanbase that grew up with them, and has seen their music age far more gracefully than their angst-driven peers, as can be seen on their tenth studio album, Surviving.
Surviving is a bit of a departure from the evolutionary path the band has taken through the 2010’s. Quite simply, it rocks a fair bit harder than most of what the band has made since 2007’s Chase This Light. Most of the songs bristle with nervy energy, driven by infectious throwback guitar riffs. “Criminal Energy” and “All the Way (Stay)” are practically classic rock cruising-down-the-highway-with-the-top-down-and-radio-blaring anthems—the latter of which even features a silly, in all the right ways, saxophone solo—while “Diamond” and “Love Never” marry pop-punk’s four palm-muted power chords to jaunty danceable grooves.
However, the band never fails to perfectly accentuate Jim Adkins’ yearning poetry with gorgeous dynamics. “Delivery” and “Recommit” flow and ebb to match Adkins’ soaring melodies and vivid lyrics depicting the process of accepting broken relationships and rebuilding one’s life in their aftermath. Lines like “I know I’m dreaming / But feels too good to stop / The picture in my head is always moving” and “From a fever to a kiss / Such frivolousness / They insist it’s all significant / No one straight line to live / Recommit” serve to illustrate just how special Adkins still is as lyricist, and the music does these lines and melodies justice.
The unexpected standouts of the album are “555” and the album-closer, “Congratulations”. The former is a radical departure from the sound of the rest of the album. Driven by sparse synth-bass, drum machines, and gently chiming guitars, it sounds simultaneously like a contemporary pop song—without seeming like it’s pandering to current trends—as well as a worthy homage to Ric Ocasek (RIP) and The Cars. “Congratulations”, on the other hand, builds tension to almost unbearable levels for five solid minutes before releasing it in a gloriously cathartic crescendo of metal riffs over its final minute that’s the heaviest thing that the band has recorded since Bleed American’s title-track and arguably the heaviest thing they’ve ever recorded.
Surviving isn’t Jimmy Eat World’s best album and might not even be their best album this decade, but it’s a fine addition to the band’s discography. It’s a little bit on the safe side and fairly one-dimensional—”555” and “Congratulations” notwithstanding. But the band’s continued unwavering honesty, both to themselves as well as their audience, impeccable compositional and lyrical nous, and the lean and fat-free 37-minute runtime of the album, ensure that it feels as vital and as authentic as anything else they’ve released since that one glorious summer nearly two decades ago.