Formed in 1993 and considered one of the flagship bands of the post-hardcore emo scene, Jimmy Eat World quickly gained international attention due to their infectious blend of alt.rock and power-pop, resulting in anthems designed to target the head as well as the heart. The band’s self-titled debut (released in 1994) and sophomore release, Static Prevails (1996), generated a loyal fan base, however, 1999’s Clarity and their commercial breakthrough, 2001’s Bleed American, thrust the group into the global spotlight.
With four studio albums under their belt and an impressive touring legacy behind them, the pressure of delivering album number five proved to be a challenge. Arguably their most important release, from a business perspective, it needed to set Jimmy Eat World apart from the growing pile of copycat artists diluting the emo sound. However, in the three years that followed Bleed American, the Arizona-based four-piece hit a creative stumbling block; after undertaking torturous sessions during which they tracked an album’s worth of material, the group scrapped everything, changed producers and started over from scratch.
Seeking a heavier sound and a different approach, the band enlisted producer Gil Norton (Pixies, Foo Fighters, Counting Crows, AFI) and engineer Dave Schiffman (System Of A Down, Audioslave, The Mars Volta), along with Rich Costey (Muse, The Mars Volta) for mixing duties. Having already tracked the album once, the band were determined to capture the true essence of their vision and decided to use every piece of technology available to make the new recordings better.
Recorded in the now-defunct Cello Studios on Sunset Boulevard, Futures is possibly the deepest and most contemplative album in the band’s discography, offering a range of styles, from the punchy opening title track to the fast-paced low-end pleasures of ‘Just Tonight’. With a noticeable step up in production, Jimmy Eat World take the listener through a vast spectrum of carefully crafted compositions laden with sky-scraping melodies and warm, compressed rhythms. One listen to ‘Work’ and it becomes impossible to resist the urge to start humming the melody.
Vocalist/guitarist Jim Adkins leads the crusade with lyrics that lean towards depression and heartbreak, taking on topics such as self-loathing, drug abuse and insecurity – the main focus for anthemic track ‘Kill’, a song that epitomises emo music. The obscenely catchy melodies continue with ‘The World You Love’ and album highlight ‘Pain’, which raises Jimmy Eat World high above their emo counterparts.
‘Drugs Or Me’ marks the album’s halfway point. Clocking in at just under six and a half minutes, it slowly unfolds with a delicate arrangement for string quartet, laced with suppressed reverbed guitars. Featuring some of the most touching lyrics on the album, it displays the group’s versatility, while its dream-like soundscape is the perfect segue into ‘Polaris’, which brings a punchier element back to the album.
The Cello Studios sessions allowed for a lot of experimentation with microphones and vintage amplifiers, the results of which are in abundant display on ‘Nothing Wrong’, on which the album’s super-dry compressed sound gives way to Zach Lind’s phenomenal drum tone and Adkins and Tom Linton’s crunching guitars. There’s another swift change of pace with the slow, hypnotic ‘Night Drive’ and the phenomenal ‘23’. As fresh as a summer’s breeze, the low-end melody glides through the latter song, supporting an über-pop chorus/singalong segment that’s built for the live arena.
Though a tremendously passionate album centred around a series of melancholy topics, overall Futures leaves the listener uplifted, thanks to the richness and warmth of the recordings. Finally released in 2004, it saw Jimmy Eat World explore their deepest emotions, delivering a modern classic that stands the test of time and continues to influence a new generation of alt.rock artists.