Rock outfit Jimmy Eat World dominated the mid-90s emo scene, carrying their audience from hardcore to alt-rock and power pop over the course of two albums, Clarity and Bleed American, between 1999 and 2001. They had a defined sound, intricate production and a safe spot among the big leagues of early-2000s rock—and then they fired the producer who shaped their sound, replaced him with Foo Fighters collaborator Gil Norton and ditched their works in progress in a bold (albeit risky) move that gave the world the 2004 record, Futures. More than a decade and a half later, Jimmy Eat World is taking the stage in a series of live streams to revisit their albums in full, and Futures is the golden fifth chapter.
Bouncy and adorned with harmonizing twin guitar riffs, the opening title track remains the most easily digestible song off Futures. Drummer Zach Lind lead the track to a soft bridge, rebuilding to a grand final chorus before transitioning into the dark and bitter “Just Tonight….” The video production was so professional it came across as a highly-edited album film, with dark blue lighting, perspective angles and sound quality beyond studio recording.
If there’s been any noticeable change since the years of Futures’ release, it would be found in Jim Adkins’ clean vocals, seeming to have traded his early-century whiny tone for a slightly lower register; the frontman’s characteristic short trills and yelps have stuck with him and make a few nostalgic decorative appearances in “Work.” Played in a toned-down minor key, the spotlight of the performance shone upon guitarist Tom Linton’s solo before the bridge and a euphoric breakdown.
Arguably one of the best songs in the band’s archive, “Kill,” which kicks off on an acoustic, tuned-down note, was the result of Adkins’ feat of writing a song without repeat lyrics (which, for the most part, he achieved). With delicate chiming heard faintly in the background, the music built to a crescendo around an outburst of vocal emotion. Adkins carried that visible emotion into a live favorite, “The World You Love,” his eyes locked shut, his hands operating separately. It’s clear why the audience connects with the live performance of an otherwise underplayed track, with its anthemic “Woah-oh!”s and striking drums.
Standing as the polar opposite of “Futures” is “Pain,” a rather inaccessible song both lyrically and sonically. It was rigid and muddy as a result of a dropped-D tuning, and its speed made it impossible to catch with. A would-be ballad if not for the lamenting, distorted guitars, “Drugs Or Me” is basically a six-minute depressive episode. Detailing in a bare, straightforward manner Adkins’ struggle with a drug-abusing friend, the track was slow and straight until the bridge, which stretched out over Adkins’ sober voice and tingling piano keys before landing in a puddle of white noise.
“Polaris” pulled influence from Clarity with its intricate guitar effects, while “Nothingwrong” was more of an angsty, screaming tantrum. The former built upon itself neatly over a repetitive drum beat, while Linton’s backing vocals provide the depth of another layer. Adkins’ vocal range came to play during the bridge, as he showcased his infrequent falsetto with the lyrics, “Are you happy when you’re standing still? Do you really want the sugar pill?” Emerging from “Nothingwrong,” the “Ooh” melody led right into “Night Drive,” yet another track on Futures to touch on addiction. A distorted guitar rhythm over an arpeggio of “Na-Na-Na-Na”s landed in a rare zone between numbness and feeling over a distorted baseline.
“23” is the cinematic ending to Futures and a rapturous live experience throughout the entirety of its seven-plus minutes. Electric and acoustic guitar riffs fought for dominance over a building string arrangement, and what started as a delicate opening melody transformed into an explosive closing chorus. The title of the track comes from the line, “Amazing still it seems/ I’ll be 23,” or the relatable feeling that people remain frozen at a specific age for a specific reason.
Repeated at the end of each chorus, Linton’s solo-turned-improv embodied the pleading nature of Adkins’ lyrics, a plea that stretched out until the final note and concluded the album. It shed a bright moonbeam of light upon Jimmy Eat World’s darkest record.
Photo Credit: Owen Ela