Can one song carry a whole album? Usually not. But what if it’s only a five-song EP and that one song is really good? What if the EP is okay, not great, but hints at a potentially superb forthcoming album? Stay on My Side Tonight, from Mesa, Arizona’s Jimmy Eat World, provides the answer: No, one song does not carry the whole EP, even if it is really fucking good.
“Disintegration,” the song in question and the EP’s opening track, has a huge amount of power. And because of this song, an explanation is in order. I’m reluctant to afford any band the benefit of the doubt, but the back story of Jimmy Eat World (and where they, in my eyes, fell off) is a crucial part of why I’m giving this band and this EP such a fighting chance.
Bleed American (2001) was an attack-force of thick guitars, anthemic choruses (“Sweetness,” “The Middle,”) and singer/guitarist Jim Adkins’s lyrics of teen-desperation and redemption sung in a pleading, barely restrained wail. It put “emo” onto the main stage – glossy but still raw, passionate and universally appealing. The band’s subsequent studio work was allegedly scrapped – too hard? – and what was released was 2004’s Futures, a crappy teen drama set to a boring mid-tempo backdrop. The aim was to further the widespread appeal set up by Bleed American’s hit single, “The Middle.” Instead, we got songs for high school guidance videos and limos to the prom. Attempts at harder songs were regurgitations from Bleed American (or even 1999’s Clarity). The audience had grown up. The band had not.
Re-enter “Disintegrated,” one of the tracks scrapped for Futures. At seven minutes, it’s one of Jimmy Eat World’s longest tracks, and for good reason. The intro builds over an Interpol-ian melodic guitar drone, and Zach Lind’s drums come in deep, loud, sparse and creatively syncopated – like Bleed American’s “Cautioners” or even Wilco’s “I Am Trying To Break Your Heart” but with more energy. Most important is the passion in Adkins’s voice and lyrics. He’s not screaming; his voice isn’t cracking. But through the lyrics – “I’d rather live my life in regret/ than do this” – it’s clear the selfish introspection and controlled anger and fear of songs such as Clarity’s “If You Don’t, Don’t” and “Your New Aesthetic” is back.
Most of Stay on My Side Tonight is average – more like stock footage meant to remind the fan of the band’s existence. A high point is “Closer,” with its layered pianos and digital effects. A half-hearted Heatmiser cover (“Half Right) and the blippy Styrofoam remix of Futures’ “Drugs or Me” are easily forgotten. But it comes down to one song – “Disintegration” – that gives hope to the wrongs of the previous full-length. With the final three-minute, arena-sized sing-along chorus (“Better next time/ stay on my side tonight”), Jimmy Eat World – like a typical line from one of the band’s songs – shows that redemption can be found in an instant.