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Thursday, Dec. 13, 2007

Jimmy Eat World: The Past is History

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December 13, 2007

The video for Jimmy Eat World's "Big Casino," the first single from their recent album Chase This Light, features the band performing in front of a large neon "Jackpot" sign while frontman Jim Adkins, perhaps reflecting on his own good luck, passionately sings lines such as, "I'll accept with poise, with grace, when they draw my name from the lottery."

On a purely superficial level, the video reads like a fitting commentary on the band's second brush with mainstream success, a reading driven home by the sonic similarities between "Big Casino" and Jimmy Eat World's 2001 breakthrough hit, "The Middle." Jimmy Eat World's number has been called once again, and the band appears grateful to have been granted a second life in the fickle world of American popular culture.

Yet, as Jimmy Eat World drummer Zach Lind recently pointed out in a telephone interview, the "lesson" of the song may be a bit more ambiguous. To Lind, the song is about "a fictional character, an older guy, past his prime, that never quite made it." Driving this point home is the fact that the video was shot at the Neon Sign Graveyard, a place in Las Vegas where the signs that once marked the old strip go to die. To Lind, such a setting recalls "a history not being used anymore," a comment that seemingly belies the anthemic qualities of the song. By the time Adkins sings, "Back when I was younger I was someone you'd have liked," you get the sense the song may not be about looking forward to a big payoff or even about celebrating the moment, but rather about contemplating a past long since outgrown.

That interpretation lends the song an intimately autobiographical feel, as it seems that the band now finds itself locked in a battle with its own history. Many of Jimmy Eat World's die-hard fans want the group to return to the sound that marked such releases as Static Prevails (1996) and Clarity (1999), two CDs that now serve as vital benchmarks in the narrative of second-generation American emo.

"We can only do what we're passionate about," notes Lind, adding that the band has no desire to relive past glories—or to pander to the interests of even their most rabid fans. "We're not going to poll our fans and say, 'Hey, what do you want to hear next?' What we did in the past, we leave it at that."

In fact, Lind seems a bit perplexed that the band is still regarded as any sort of torchbearer for the emo scene. Such a tag, according to Lind, "never meant a whole lot to us … Emo is just an odd journalistic device that doesn't really lead anyone on to what kind of band you are."

During Jimmy Eat World's formative years, it was perhaps easy to pin that kind of a one-size-fits-all label on the band, as they were highly influenced by the work of such melodic punk bands as Sunny Day Real Estate, Fugazi, J Church and Propagandhi. Yet once the group discovered acts such as Rocket From the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu (whose drummer, Mark Trombino, would produce Static Prevails and Clarity), they began to appreciate the often-overlooked beauty of classic American rock 'n' roll. Commenting on their evolution, Lind remarks that Chase This Light is "a straight-up pop-rock record. We're not trying to be indie-rock or anything else."

That pronouncement will undoubtedly piss off a number of old-school Jimmy Eat World fans, and may even cause other more casual listeners to write off the release as unoriginal or even formulaic. But, as Lind points out, some of the best rock 'n' roll ever produced followed similar guidelines.

"If you listen to rock music, there are certain conventions that are used, and we don't shy away from these conventions," he said.

And while Chase This Light may not be the band's most inspiring work, there is something comforting in the simplicity and earnestness with which the band members, some 15 years after their start, still approach their craft. Sometimes simply rolling forward is as good as reinventing the wheel.

Jimmy Eat World headlines the FM 102.1 Big Snow Show on Dec. 16 at the Riverside Theater with Coheed and Cambria, Shiny Toy Guns and The Starting Line.

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