The massive success of Jimmy Eat World's 2001 Bleed American propelled the band into the mass-culture spotlight, with the hit single "The Middle" seemingly popping up in every third movie released and the group turning in an energized performance on Saturday Night Live. Many, many groups followed in their wake, crafting a similar blend of melodic, anguished punk-pop and leaving Jimmy Eat World in the position of crafting a follow-up that set them apart from their acolytes. Futures gets around this dilemma in two ways. First, with the help of producer Gil Norton, the band polishes its sound until it shines like a slick '70s arena rock record. The guitars are stacked like thick diamonds, the vocals are way out front and buttressed by sweet harmonies in the choruses, the drums sound large, and the mix is loaded with sweetening from acoustic guitars, keyboards, and female vocals. In the process, they sacrificed the immediacy of the previous record, but they gained an epic and weighty feel. Secondly, the lyrics are much darker and more mature, including themes that revolve around politics, drugs, and despair. The piano-and-feedback ballad "Drugs or Me" and the bittersweet love song "Night Drive" are the products of age and experience the band lacked until now. The best song on the record, the very Disintegration-era Cure-sounding "23," seems like it was recorded by a different group entirely. Some things have remained the same, however. Jim Adkins' vocals are as intense and heart-tugging as ever, and the band still writes hooks that will have you singing along before the song is half over. "Just Tonight," "Futures," and the AC/DC-sampling "Pain" are all trademark Jimmy Eat World punky pop/rockers with anthemic choruses, while "The World You Love" and "Work" display the sweetly melodic side of the band. There are a couple of stumbles (the decision to replace Petra Haden's charming vocals with Liz Phair's, the generic "Nothingwrong"), but they don't detract from the overall power of the record. Futures will most likely not be the sensation that Bleed American was -- it is too dark and inwardly focused for that -- but it shows a progression of sound and emotion that fans of the band should embrace.
© Tim Sendra /TiVo