On Invented, Jimmy Eat World, now 16 years into their career, sounds like they’ve started to outgrow emo. For most teenagers, that stepping stone along the road to greater maturity and insight is a good thing, but it’s problematic for a band that was a key player in legitimizing emo as an entire genre of modern rock. Growing up is simply anathema to emo, and Invented finds Jimmy Eat World, a band of guys now well into their 30s, struggling to move forward after a protracted adolescence.
The quartet’s last couple of albums hinted that they might one day take a heavier turn. After the one-dimensional, shallow mope of 2004’s Futures and the slight rebound on Chase This Light, Invented leaps headlong toward seriousness in both its sound and its songwriting. Jimmy Eat World happens to be a fine guitar rock outfit, and they’re at their best when they showcase their gift for pop hooks and melodies, rivaling acts like Fountains of Wayne and the New Pornographers. The heaviness of Invented’s overall sound, though, doesn’t recall any of those power-pop acts so much as it smacks of Linkin Park.
The reverb on the electric guitar riffs is so loud and the percussion lines are so aggressive on songs like “Coffee and Cigarettes” and “Action Needs and Audience” that they sound like the work of a much harder band than Jimmy Eat World has ever been. Which would be fine if the songs actually sounded good: Unfortunately, Invented is yet another album to have lost the so-called loudness war. Every element of the album, from the lead guitars right down to the female harmony vocals on the title track, is pitched to be as loud as everything else, and the result is suffocating.
That the songs aren’t much better than what Linkin Park or Disturbed routinely offer is especially disappointing. Lead single “My Best Theory” has a terrific melody and explodes into its chorus, but its attempt at self-actualization is awkward and empty: “Stand up as they’ve been preaching/My best theory is already in me.” The focal points of “Stop” don’t fit the song’s meter and place the emphasis on words in an unnatural cadence: “If you wanna make me mad/Stop, ’cause I am.” But for a mention of a couple of old cassette tapes, “Coffee and Cigarettes” is an entirely rote narrative about setting out to find oneself post-college. These are all themes that Jimmy Eat World has covered before, and Invented doesn’t find the band any wiser with age.
It’s when they aren’t trying so hard for gravitas that Jimmy Eat World sounds like a band that might survive their awkward teen years. “Movielike” sticks to a straightforward conceit and to the type of anthemic power-pop that the band does well. With its simple handclap percussion, soaring refrain melody, and vigorous acoustic guitar arrangement, “Heart Is Hard to Find” is the set’s most effortless song. It’s telling that it’s also the one that sounds the most lived-in and sincere. On the band’s previous efforts, those descriptors would’ve fit the majority of the songs and performances. Invented doesn’t entirely lose those attributes that make Jimmy Eat World such a doggedly likable band, but it struggles to know what happens when emo kids get over it.