Ever mindful of their fans' busy schedules, Jimmy Eat World have made it easy for them to tell if the band's new album, Futures, is worth the time. The LP takes its name from its first track, so within a few seconds, if you don't like how the quartet has matured on its fifth album, you'd be wise to move on to something else.
"Futures is sort of different for us," singer Jim Adkins said. "We felt like we've taken a step forward with this album, and deciding to put that song out first is a great way to show that. If you get past the first song and you really don't like it, then I don't think you're going to like the rest of it."
As opposed to 2001's self-titled album (or Bleed American, depending on whether you bought your copy before or after the semantically sensitive months that followed September 11, 2001), Futures finds the band at its fullest. Instead of the sparse verses that fed explosive choruses, highlights of songs such as "The Middle" and "Sweetness," Futures' tunes start big and, for the most part, stay that way.
"We get sick of doing the same thing," Adkins said. "There's definitely still the 'hit you in the face' thing that we like to do, but it's a lot more moody. It's a lot more atmospheric. On almost every song, there's at least one instrument playing this drone, just one note the whole song. Or one jangly loop playing through the whole song."
Due October 19, Futures is hardly an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink affair, however. Sure, songs like the title track; "Nothing Wrong"; "Work," which features Liz Phair; and the first single, "Pain," are some of the most dynamic and textured tunes the band has ever written, but the group was hardly stacking up sounds frivolously.
"Everything that happens has to be doing something for the song, advancing it or helping it establish a theme or mood," Adkins said. "There are so many more interesting ways to make something feel bigger than kicking on a distortion pedal or overdubbing 90 heavy guitars. It was important for us to seek out those creative ways. A lot of times you can make something feel a lot bigger by going wider instead of just getting louder."
In the more than five months it took to put Futures together, the songwriting notwithstanding, the band took a more meticulous approach than usual. Thanks to the success of its last album, which sold 1.3 million copies and yielded four singles, it had a lot to live up to. While recording the album in Los Angeles and Tucson, Arizona, the bandmembers swore to themselves that they wouldn't settle for anything but their best work. But before they could start recording, they had to allow their feet to come back to Earth.
"Because the last record was so widely accepted, and we toured behind it for almost two years, it took longer for us to decompress and get back to the place where you just sort of forget anyone's going to be hearing what you're doing," he explained, "and just work on something for the sake of the song."
Besides past victories, Jimmy Eat World's other motivation was producer Gil Norton. With a reputation for producing busy, hard-rocking albums for the Pixies (Doolittle, Bossanova), Foo Fighters (The Colour and the Shape) and Dashboard Confessional (A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar), Adkins and his bandmates learned a few things from the experienced tech while making sure they didn't disappoint.
"He made us think about transitions within the song," Adkins said. "In the past, I've always thought the best transition was none. People waste so much time coming up with a weak guitar noodle-y thing for a bridge part that I always thought it was more powerful not to do one.
"He's also a guy you want to impress," he added. "He's extremely picky about performance, and that's good. You want someone that's going to try to get the best out of you. He just has this way about him that makes you want to get it in one take."