It Holds Up: Jimmy Eat World – “Invented”
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Over the course of a career as long and prolific as Jimmy Eat World’s, you’re bound to have a few records or songs that sink to the bottom of the popularity pool. Mid-career slumps are unavoidable for even our most illustrious stars, from David Bowie to Stevie Wonder to Jenny Lewis, all of whom have records that sit at the bottom of a stack of beloved LPs. Sometimes they end up there due to the faults of the songs, but often it has more to do with the changing of the times—an artist either makes too big a leap or doesn’t pivot fast enough to keep up with the constantly shifting tide of contemporary taste. Maybe it’s not a complete flop, but that album never seems to come up in conversations about the best releases from that particular band or artist.
Invented, which came out ten years ago last month, is nobody’s favorite Jimmy Eat World album. I have read and participated in probably hundreds of conversations about this band about their best records in every conceivable format—How would you rank them by best closing tracks? How would you rank them by cover art? Can you create an album based on the best tracks in the track 1 spot, track 2 spot, and so on? (don’t ask)—and of all of the long-running Arizona band’s albums besides the virtually discounted 1994 self-titled record, Invented gets the least accolades. Even the sometimes-maligned 2013 follow-up Damage has its niche group of fans who tout it as the sleeper pick, probably due to its raw, singular sound within the Jimmy canon and the sharp, direct subject matter of the songs (lead singer Jim Adkins repeatedly referred to Damage as his take on an “adult breakup album,” all of the songs dealing with a dissolution of what seems to be a mature, lived-in relationship, although songs like the wonderfully petty “How’d You Have Me” still go for plenty of cheap shots).
Unlike Damage, Invented stands out as the most varied and least restrained release from Jimmy Eat World since their 1999 landmark Clarity. It serves partly as a culmination of all the sounds that they had experimented and refined up until this point in 2010—across the album’s 12 tracks the band turns in songs that revisit the gritty rock and roll of 2001’s Bleed American, the atmospheric darkness of 2004’s Futures, and the towering hooks of 2007’s Chase This Light. Its structure, its sprawl, and its production credits—for this was the last time that the band worked with Mark Trombino, the producer who helped them hone and define their sound in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s—all recall the towering masterpiece that is Clarity. Beyond touching base on all of their myriad trademark sounds however, Invented finds Jimmy Eat World stretching into new directions as well, from the science fiction dance rock of “Higher Devotion” to the wall of sound that fills “Evidence” to the very brim.
Perhaps this is part of the issue when it comes to holding up Invented as a high watermark of Jimmy Eat World’s long and astoundingly consistent career. It reaches in so many directions that it’s difficult to pin down a composed vision behind the record, but maybe that is the point. Adkins was creating little character sketches on these songs, generating ideas by flipping through photo books and creating backstories based on what he saw. Through this lens, it makes sense to see Invented as a collection of short stories, each disparate sound a reflection of a new point of view. In “Evidence,” a former couple navigates their shared living space. In the sweeping, musical-level dramatic “Cut,” a narrator considers self-esteem and fortitude at the precipice of a break-up. In the driving and free “Coffee and Cigarettes,” a recent graduate has the whole world ahead of them, and all the while they can’t help but linger on what they’ll miss from their past life. Each of these songs composes a narrative in itself, bringing together a series of sharp and reliably emotive fictions.
In this light, it makes a little more sense why Invented tends to be overlooked in the context of Jimmy Eat World’s LPs, but some of its marquee tracks do persist in the court of fan favoritism. There’s the gorgeous opening track “Heart is Hard to Find,” which stomps and swoons with a kind of gooey sentimentality that can only be attributed to Jimmy Eat World. ”I can’t compete with the clear eyes of strangers/ I’m more and more replaced by my friends each night,” Adkins opens with a low, vague twang against some spirited acoustic strumming and cheery handclaps. The song eventually blooms into a full-blown orchestral event, Adkins repeatedly breathing out the song’s title in such an earnest way, he basically proves himself wrong on the spot. “Heart is Hard to Find” is in some ways akin to the band’s essential pop hit “The Middle,” an underdog song that imbues every moment with such candid warmth that it’s practically irresistible.
Later, “Movielike” takes the airy, anything-can-happen energy of “Coffee and Cigarettes” and combines it with the towering pop of Chase This Light. Here we have a big, slinky chorus that’s classically Jimmy Eat World (“nothing movie-like/ and nothing magic”), Zach Lind’s percussion snapping and echoing off the song’s colossal edges. Like many of the songs on Invented, “Movielike” deals with a turning point in the central character’s life, when they’re positioning themselves for their next move. While the lyrics suggest a possible bittersweetness (“waiting to see a sign?/ then you’ve seen the best already”), the song’s shimmering ahhs and monumental bridge carry all the optimism and hope in the world. Alongside the twinkling “Littlething” and the traditionally massive closer “Mixtape,” “Movielike” to me has always embodied the sound of the winds changing and the leaves turning over in autumn, a representation of all the possibilities that come with a necessary ending.
Of the select songs on Invented that still regularly get their due, it’s the title track that gets the most (well-deserved) respect. For a band who has consistently turned in epics of all statures—whether they’re running out the tape on the ambient outro to Clarity’s “Goodbye Sky Harbor” or they’re filling the room with perfect rock and roll diary entries on “23” or “Dizzy”—”Invented” still stands out as perhaps their most unexpected and creative. A raw, whispering acoustic track for the first several minutes, “Invented” is the song in which Adkins is most committed to the record’s character exploration. In a raspy whisper backed by Courtney Marie Andrews’s soothing vocal textures, Adkins spins a narrative of repeated missed connections—of loaded mispronunciations (“when I first came to see you/ I called it ‘Houston Street’”), of depressive overindulgence (“I met you the old-fashioned way: too drunk/ and even worse, much too lonely”), of inflamed self-doubt (“I can leave you here with your ‘people’/ if I’m the flag you’d not prefer to wave”). It’s an enchanting, intimate performance that slowly reveals a portrait of a person who clearly has a lot of work to do on themselves. Suddenly, though, the spell is broken, or perhaps one is cast. Suddenly, an interjection of guitars, of raucous, moving rock and roll. Suddenly, a daydream, an imagined scenario in which the narrator gets everything they’re not ready for just yet:
There’s a cinematic end / I picture it just right
Having trouble with the right words / But you tell me with your eyes
There’s something good I miss / There’s something I can’t find
Do you believe me now? / Can you see it in my eyes?
And just like that, it’s over, gone. Adkins and Andrews are back to their hushed duet. The reality of doing the work overwhelms the invention of romanticized perfection. It’s one of the most emotionally overwhelming moments in Jimmy Eat World’s catalogue—no small feat—so it’s no surprise that it elides the rest of the album’s tendency to be pushed aside.
That tendency to be forgotten, by the way, is wholly undeserved. While Invented may not be my favorite Jimmy Eat World album, it has held that place in my esteem and probably will again, and that really means something when it comes to a band that’s as important to me as this one is. And one of the reasons for this is the very thing that probably pushed this album to the margins of Jimmy Eat World’s discography in the first place—timing.
Invented was the first album that the band released when I was fully along for the ride. I fell in love with them about a year after Chase This Light came out and felt the full weight of their classics throughout my first few years of high school. But Invented was the first of their albums that felt like it was mine, the first time I got to listen to each single as it came out, the first time I got to experience the excitement of seeing the artwork for the first time. I was 16 years old when the album was announced and “My Best Theory” generated controversy on the AbsolutePunk boards—I remember reading several pages of arguments about how the single sounded “too much like Fall Out Boy” (don’t ask), the first indications that maybe the time wasn’t as ripe for Jimmy Eat World as it once was. But I loved “My Best Theory” when it came out, and I still do. With its loud, razor-sharp, Futures-reminiscent guitars and its tepid interest in synthesizers, it felt both true to themselves and distinct from what they had done before. To me, it’s a wailing, electrifying anthem, another one for underdogs, like “The Middle” but blown out and mighty. “My best theory/ it’s already in me,” Adkins sings in his most urgent voice in what feels like a rallying cry. For a teenager who often felt a little isolated, a little misunderstood (like most teenagers probably did), it was like a godsend, like it was alright to feel a little differently and think a little differently. Like all great Jimmy Eat World songs, it may be a tad corny, but it’s so earnest that it feels like an original truth.
Since I was a teenager when Invented came out, it was easy for me to connect with a lot of these narratives about turning points, personal growth, and new beginnings. When you’re young and you’re still trying to figure out the person you’re trying to become, practically every day (hauntingly) feels like a new beginning. And that’s what I think about most when I think about Invented, how all of these characters were at points in their lives where they were making decisions that would determine who they’d become—from the frenzied, pressurized narrator of “My Best Theory” to the down-but-hopeful one in “Movielike”—and how I was also facing these decisions all the time. And like the central character of the title track, I too had a penchant for slipping into daydreams wherein all these choices would someday lead me where I wanted to go.
Invented may not have the cultural impact that Bleed American or Futures had. It might not have the cult status of Clarity or the left-field attractiveness of Damage, and it’s not the return to critical consideration that 2016’s essential Integrity Blues would eventually bring. But Invented is a special and undervalued record in Jimmy Eat World’s oeuvre, one that sees them harkening back to their past and expanding their boundaries in equal measure. It’s a collection of songs that, if they hit you at the right time, can become anthems for uncomfortable and challenging transitions. Invented might not be anybody’s favorite Jimmy Eat World album, but that doesn’t stop it from being a classic.
Jordan Walsh | @jordalsh
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