During the 2000s, Jimmy Eat World solidified its position as a leading act in the world of alternative-emo-pop-rock with the records Bleed American, Futures and Chase This Light. As the world now sits on the verge of the 2020s, and a long way off from aughts emo relevancy, the band has slapped together a new collection of tunes appropriately titled Surviving. Their last few preceding albums, including Damage (2013) and Integrity Blues (2016) have received positive reviews well after their golden age, so it’s not a stretch to say that Jimmy Eat World will have at least attempted to retain similar energy going into their latest effort.
Indeed, Surviving does set off in an optimistic direction: Immediately as the album’s title track opens, a portal opens up to about 2002 or so in the form of pop-punk guitar riffing and energetic arena drums, building until it bursts into a massive, stadium-encompassing chorus with an uplifting message: “Gonna stand this ground/gonna say it loud/never define yourself/by choices others make.” The driving dynamic set thus far carries into “Criminal Energy”, which while expanding properly on the tone set by “Surviving” is tainted slightly by a cliched guitar bridge and an overall dated vibe that both tracks 1 and 2 are unfortunately marked by. The danceable groove of “Delivery” provides a necessary update, however, departing from the emo-punk-pop realm into more mainstream fare perfectly suited for 2019.
“555” goes even further into standard synth-electro-pop laced with perfectly suitable jangle guitar in the choruses for added effect, contrasting heavily with the standard drum-and-guitar based rock of the album’s openers. It’s plausible to say that the direction of the first two songs was to remind listeners that this is still a Jimmy Eat World record before steering into far more contemporary territory, pads, beds and all. Not all is lost for the purists though, as “One Mil” cracks open with light acoustic plucking before blowing into unmistakable, Simple Plan-esque 2000s sing-song: “I’ll try but I could waste one million chances/before you’re gone/before I get your name.”
Not wanting to stick in teenagerloveland for long, the crippling trappings of approach anxiety give way to the more mature tone of “All The Way (Stay)” which honestly muses: “Who really says they hope they meet the one/For the first time at a bar drinking early?/Easy enough to say hey man, I’m done.” Despite its evolutionary contrast to previous tales of yore and skatepark lust, a fair bit of the lyrical content in the verses is nevertheless lacklustre and corny with lines like the ones listed above. Also, the saxophone could be fully done without. Just saying.
Continuing on the track of overly relatable content, “Diamond” is an up-tick ode to self-improvement, with Jim Adkins describing the way a diamond, or a quality human grows in his book. One part of this involves Adkins reading back his “greatest hits”: No, not “The Middle”, “Pain” or “Work”, something higher than simple plaques on a wall: “Should meditate/should work out more/should read until my brain gets sore/meet someone/go far away/try being socially less strange.” The public is also advised to not “believe them if they try to sell you something quicker.” The succeeding track, “Love Never”, while being an anthemic-yet-standard Jimmy Eat World tune also asks “Do you want the work more than the reward?”, further affirming Adkins’ high stature as successful frontman/global life coach. Leave it up to Jimmy Eat World to stand out as a beacon of shining positivity in a realm of music caricatured as gloomy as all fuck.
“Recommit” slows things back down into a mellower mood, vacillating in and out of ethereal bliss and all-encompassing sound walls and set to simple-yet-effective catchy lyricism: “Stay in my heart/waste another life/start another life.” “Congratulations” closes the album on a more serious, pointed note and winds along to a Royal Blood-esque climax of angsty rage previously undemonstrated in much of the uppier, poppier base of the record. Not quite the uplifting advice heard earlier as much as it appears to be a vicious sociopolitical critique: “You’ll blame and fight each other/for just a slice of plunder/too down and tired to wonder/whose foot you’re crawling under.” It’s a strong note to end on, but a bit of a heel turn given, as mentioned, the tone of the majority of the record before.
Surviving, in sum, is certainly an imperfect record, but not one that is completely lost and abysmal either. Certain transitions and dynamics could have been handled better, and a few of the opening tracks, while good, sounded a bit out of date and thus in too sharp of a contrast to the ones that are more fitting to the current year. Worthy of appreciation is the uplifting spirit of a good part of the record; compelling people to improve, struggle, survive, and the whole nine yards. Not bad, but even greater things could be achieved. Hopefully Jimmy Eat World will continue surviving long enough to be able to manifest these suggestions into reality.