In the 20 years since Jimmy Eat World recorded its first album, and more than a decade since Bleed American marked its commercial peak, the band has comfortably settled into “elder statesman” status, predictably releasing solid albums every three years with little fanfare. Each record can generally be counted on for at least a couple good-to-great songs, even as the albums become difficult to differentiate. 2007’s Chase This Light had several great tracks, but 2010’s Invented had fewer, and the new Damage has fewer still, making it perhaps the most anonymous of Jimmy Eat World’s most recent output.
The band has honed its sound so well—and shown little interest in expanding it much—that new Jimmy Eat World albums have become less of an event and more of a mundane routine, like a road that’s repaved every few years. A smooth new street is nice, but people only notice it for a little while before it recedes into the background.
That’s not to say Damage lacks effort. The band’s first for RCA, it sounds almost like a concept album about the long, painful end of a relationship. Damage opens with the tentative emotions of “Appreciation” (“We build / We box / We carry on as people we forgot / Strange we come to find ourselves / Not knowing we’re lost”), and closes with airy epilogue “You Were Good” (“It was good / It was good / Then it was gone”). The title track asks, “Are we only damaging what little we have left?,” “Book Of Love” wonders, “Are they ever coming back again? / Those feelings that we started with,” “Please Say No” implores the other person to walk away, and “I Will Steal You Back” is self-explanatory. All the songs hover in a similar headspace, some with good results (“Appreciation,” “I Will Steal You Back”) and others less so (“Byebyelove”).
At this point in its improbably long career, Jimmy Eat World can be forgiven for not feeling like it has anything to prove, and Damage provides another slew of solid songs to a catalog packed with them. While the group’s predictability has traditionally been a positive assurance of quality, it’s now more indicative of stasis. Damage doesn’t offend, but it doesn’t offer much that’s memorable, either.