Album Review

Jimmy Eat World - Damage

Released June 11, 2013
Chris Grzan
"Damage" is Jimmy Eat World's most cohesive record in years. Produced by Alain Johannes, the band's eighth studio album (and first for RCA Records) is a concise, simple and effective record that establishes a singular tone. The band's history is on display, as there are nods and winks to older records sprinkled throughout, but "Damage" puts it all together with the expertise of a band that is clearly well-versed in songwriting and production.

The record establishes firm tonal boundaries while allowing plenty of room for these seasoned song writers to play around. Songs such as "I Will Steal You Back" and "Lean" give the band an opportunity to strum a few distorted chords, hit the drums with force, and rock the hell out - while others such as "Damage" and "Book of Love" suggest that Jim Adkins must hum poppy love songs in his sleep. But the record's greatest attribute isn't a single song, it's that all of these songs sound like they belong with one another. The tone might vary, the instrumentation might change, but overall the record makes one, clear musical statement. It gives "Damage" a unique, memorable quality.

If there is anything that "Damage" has drastically improved when compared to the band's recent records, it's the production quality. I'm not suggesting that "Chase this Light" and "Invented" weren't top quality productions, but there were certain choices made on those records that didn't always flatter the songs. The tone and mix of the guitars was my biggest issue. The guitars had an overly tight, treble-ridden quality that seemed to muddle the mix. I couldn't always tell Jim's and Tom's guitars apart. There are no such issues on "Damage," however. From the start of the record's attention-grabbing opener, "Appreciation," the guitar tone is perfection. It's bright, crisp, and clear, enabling me to pick out each note in each chord. And when the second guitar comes in with a different voicing, I can hear each part clearly, without losing any impact.

Moreover, as much as I enjoyed the band's last two records, there was a glossy characteristic to the production that clashed with some of the material. The singing was just a little too perfect, the guitars were a little too aligned, the cymbal crashes a little too powerful. For me, "Damage" demonstrates that less can be more. Jim's vocal range is as intimidating as ever, but he doesn't quite hit each note perfectly. The guitars sometimes sound as if they were recorded live together as opposed to separately. These tiny characteristics add up over the course of the record, giving "Damage" a layer of rawness that serves the songs extremely well.

I believe this is perfectly exemplified in "No, Never." It's one of my favorite tracks on the record because it makes me feel as if I'm in the room with the band. There's a clunky quality to the song that unexpectedly works in its favor. The vocal harmonies aren't pitch perfect, the guitar strums might not always align with the drums, but once the chorus arrives I can't help but drum along with the eagerness of someone much younger than I am. For a second I can envision the song being played in a packed, small local music hall. It has that connective energy and approachability that professionally recorded songs often lack.

With "Damage," Jimmy Eat World has made a record with the professionalism of a veteran, yet the charm of a novice. I can tell the record was put together with the utmost care, but that the process itself was a little looser this time. Maybe Jim and Tom played with just a little more carelessness than they usually do, maybe Jim didn't try to hit every note, maybe Zach didn't try to keep the timing perfect. And, as a result, maybe the band made one of its most endearing records ever.