Integrity Blues is the ninth, yes ninth, studio album from veteran emo-rockers Jimmy Eat World and sees them move, albeit only slightly, out of their familiar comfort zone. Whilst the record has been penned as a more daring adventure for the band, I feel this is giving them slightly too much credit. There is never a moment between the decisive opener ‘You With Me’ and the emphatic album closer ‘Pol Roger’ that the listener could be listening to any other band.
That said, the band have benefitted for the first time in their career from having a ‘fifth member’ in producer Justin Meldal-Johnsen (M83, Paramore); his presence is discernible on every note of the record. But more importantly, he has had an impact on how the songs have been arranged too. JEW have clearly gained a lot from their year off, ideas on the previous record Damage were oversaturated and its paths well-trodden – essentially a worse version of the records preceding it. Integrity Blues however, hacks away at the brambles and forges a new path for an often-underrated band in a new and more challenging musical climate. This is how to benefit from a trustworthy producer, to come to them with ideas in progress rather than finished works.
The finished work is, of course, Integrity Blues. Upon the first listen it is clear that both band and producer have been on the same creative page and the result is a wonderfully reflective record that sounds as much like saying goodbye to an old lover as it does welcoming a new one into your arms. That’s the beauty of Integrity Blues; it guides you through the band’s reinvention whilst all the while keeping you close to their roots.
The album begins with ‘You With Me’, a classic Jimmy Eat World opener boasting a trademark catchy chorus and the lyric What makes our love so hard to be, is it you or is that you with me? which captures perfectly the style of Jim Adkins but without the cheesiness (for lack of a better word!) of the previous offerings, showing his development as a lyricist.
Indeed, this is a recurring feature of the album. Adkins, who on previous records has been sure never to write about himself, is uncharacteristically open on Integrity Blues. Perhaps never more poignantly than on ‘It Matters’, presumably referring to fans pull[ing] away after Damage. In this song he addresses former lyrics as in ‘Episode IV’ from Static Prevails, Tom Linton sang of dancing all night whereas in 2016 Jim brings us back down to Earth with I think about us dancing, but it’s not something we do. Well there’s my dream, doesn’t it sound good to you?. Equally ‘Pretty Grids’ opts for the somewhat less eloquent Sometimes the right one finds us, who cares why they do which couldn’t be further from the sentiments on any other JEW record (or, indeed, any other emo record).
Integrity Blues isn’t perfect though. ‘Pretty Grids’ and ‘Pass The Baby’ both start promising enough but then venture into areas they really shouldn’t. Thankfully that duo of songs are sandwiched between ‘It Matters ‘and lead single ‘Get Right’, the latter of which, I must say, does fall short of what we have come expect from a JEW single. But as the album title suggests, any errors in judgement are almost immediately rectified, in this case by ‘You Are Free’, a typical yet more mature offering which sits as one of the finest in the catalogue.
The same can certainly be said for the album’s closer ‘Pol Rogers’ which is on the same pedestal as the likes of ‘23’, ‘Dizzy’, and ‘Invented’ – a six minute epic to satisfy the more enduring fans who have always known the band have more to offer than the catchy hooks of ‘The Middle’.
Overall, it is clear the band have stepped into the studio wanting to be known for what they are doing rather than what they have done. Well, mission accomplished.