Stay On My Side Tonight (EP)

Jimmy Eat World

Interscope, 2005

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


If there's one thing I think I've made clear in my various rants about possessive, bitter early-adopter fans who grow to resent an up-and-coming band's eventual success, it's this: band, don't listen to them! Grow, change, be open-minded and explore new territory. Most of all, don't let anyone -- not even your quote-unquote biggest fans -- dictate the kind of music you make.

This observation goes hand in hand with another: I think one of the downfalls of many bands on the cusp of breaking out these days is the overvaluing of what you might call "indie cred." I remember reading an indie press review of Jimmy Eat World's 2001 disc Bleed American that trashed the band for "selling out" because the new disc dared to trim the band's previous tendencies toward adolescent excess into something more mature, concise and potent -- which also made it appealing to an audience broader than the band's existing cult following. The fact that both the music and the lyrics were tighter and stronger failed to register with the reviewer in question -- in his close-minded syllogism, if a wider audience liked the album, it had to suck.

All of which is simply a preface to this review's topic sentence: I get the feeling from this EP that Jimmy Eat World misses their indie cred, and they shouldn't.

Consisting of four tracks left off of the band's recent (excellent) disc my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Futures, plus a remix, Stay On My Side Tonight revisits several of the weaknesses Jimmy magnificently shed on Bleed American and Futures -- droning mid-tempo beats, instrumental breaks that lead nowhere, and failed sonic experiments. Only two songs -- 40% of this five-track EP -- offer anything really notable to the listener.

The opener "Disintegration" is easily the strongest cut here, a drawn-out, intense love-gone-wrong tune that creates drama by pushing Zach Lind's thundering drums way up in the mix a la Phil Collins' "In The Air Tonight" and executing a steady build to a satisfying conclusion. I also loved the line "Wonder why I'm so caught off guard when we kiss" for how it sums up the awkwardness and doubt at the core of any troubled relationship.

The other highlight here is the rocker with the stuttering beat, "Closer," in particular the sudden, rather symphonic mid-song interlude where Jim Adkins and Tom Linton's twin guitars duel to a crescendo. There's some sharp rhythm section work from Lind and Rick Burch going on underneath as well.

Track two ("Over") features well-arranged vocal interplay between Adkins and Linton, but never really ignites. And while I think just about everyone should cover an Elliott Smith tune (if he's good enough for Ben Folds to write a song about, he's good enough for me), Jimmy's ponderous take on "Half Right" is underwhelming.

And then there's track five.

For this EP's encore, the boys offer a remix of "Drugs Or Me." I was intrigued by the idea, since the Futures version of "Drugs" felt like the weakest link on that very strong album. Could they add interest to the song by reimagining it somehow? Maybe so, but you'd never know listening to this sonic train wreck, which consists of sliced, diced and distorted snippets of what was originally a rather pretty vocal track laid on top of layer after layer of jarring, robotic synthesizer masturbation. You get the sense at one point in the middle that they had ideas of turning this earnest ballad into a trip-hop number, which could have been interesting, but they never settle into a groove, and the end result is a jittery, vaguely nauseating mess.

Taken as a whole, Stay On My Side Tonight feels like a step backwards for Jimmy Eat World, a sop to the old guard who've criticized the band for the twin sins of evolving musically and winning new fans. Of course, I may have it all wrong -- indie cred may have nothing to do with it, and this may in fact be exactly the music Jimmy Eat World wants to make right now. Either way, I'm sure about this much: they can do better.

Rating: B-

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