Writing music can be seen as a systematic, routine process: Artists take popular styles of the time, add personal flair and go on to incessantly promote their product of the music-making machine. Typically, artists can rely on one system for a few years, maybe a decade if they’re extraordinarily innovative. But how do bands maintain a following — fans of their new music — 20 years after their biggest hits?
Two weeks ago, alternative-rock bands Third Eye Blind and Jimmy Eat World each released new albums, “Screamer” and “Surviving,” respectively. In preparation for the album releases, the bands toured the country together over the summer in their joint “Summer Gods” tour. This tour provided nostalgia for pop-rock fans of the late 1990s and early 2000s: Third Eye Blind’s top hits “Semi-Charmed Life” and “Jumper” were both released at the close of the century, and Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle” reached the top of the charts in 2002. For their most recent albums, these bands must attempt to find a balance between holding on to the band’s signature sound while also appealing to the ears of 2019.
Third Eye Blind’s “2X Tigers” is undoubtedly a product of musical styles of the 2010s; with a repetitive chorus, excessively Auto-Tuned “talk-singing” and a high-pitched synthesizer bridge common in modern pop songs (think “Where Are Ü Now,” “Middle”), Third Eye Blind embraces current musical techniques. Yet using new techniques does not mean using exclusively 21st-century techniques. In “Got So High,” the band changes tempo to express changing states of consciousness. This floating, dream-like effect, although rare in modern music, can be found as far back as The Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
In a recent press release, lead singer Stephan Jenkins said, “We have always been so insular, and on ‘Screamer’ we adopted an open-door policy — come in, be musical and follow the song where it takes us.”
Although “Screamer” incorporates new musical techniques, the album maintains the lyrical depth characteristic of emo and acoustic grunge music. “Light It Up,” for example, consistently uses intricate similes and metaphors to illustrate the pain and longing that comes with losing someone and wishing the best for them. “The Kids Are Coming (To Take You Down)” and “Tropic Scorpio” also exemplify grunge themes, both admiring the resilience and rebellion of an independent, undeniably badass girl who isn’t afraid to stand up for herself.
Amid maintaining the lyrical complexity of earlier rock music, songs on this album display the direct cyclicity of music. “Screamer” sounds like something straight off of Panic! At The Disco’s “Too Weird to Live, Too Rare to Die!,” and “Turn Me On” sounds like the creation of The 1975 or 5 Seconds of Summer. These three bands, all popular throughout the 2010s, were heavily influenced by pop rock predecessors of the prior two decades — that is, influenced by the very bands they now influence.
This cyclicity is apparent on Jimmy Eat World’s latest album “Surviving,” as well. “Congratulations,” the final song on the album, opens with a guitar riff reminiscent of We The Kings’ “Check Yes Juliet” and invokes dark nihilistic lyrics one may associate with bands like Linkin Park. By revealing the implicit influence bands have on each other, Jimmy Eat World demonstrates how songwriting is not a solitary process. It is a process of collaboration and experimentation.
In an interview with Chorus.fm, drummer Zach Lind emphasized the importance of experimentation: “Some of the songs we do should be a little bit weird. And then you have some songs [on this album] that are ‘Oh yeah, that sounds like Jimmy Eat World.’ But I think it’s important, at least for our own sanity, to say ‘Okay, well let’s do something that’s super out there and odd.’”
“Surviving,” unlike most recent albums released by late ‘90s and early 2000s punk rock bands, retains the sound of music released twenty years ago. “One Mil” opens with nothing but an acoustic guitar and gradually builds with punchy drums and heavy electric guitar, making it indistinguishable from hits of the late ‘90s. “Diamond,” too, sounds like the opening title of a soundtrack for an Amanda Bynes high school drama. Pairing an uptempo, uplifting melody with lyrics showing the struggles of social awkwardness, this song appeals to the teenage children of Jimmy Eat World’s older fans.
Older fans may also appreciate the apathy and longing for adventure found in “All the Way (Stay),” or its recognizably-‘90s fast, short strumming and cheery saxophone solo. “Criminal Energy” also invokes distinctively ‘90s music, with its heavy bass and unapologetically aggressive lyrics similar to metal of the era.
In these two albums, Third Eye Blind and Jimmy Eat World show that songwriting is not a monotonous, routine process; it depends on risk and experimentation. By combining experimental techniques with the nostalgia of inoffensive, lighter punk music, these bands effectively demonstrate the struggle to maintain past fans in a modern setting. They demonstrate how, ultimately, music can help us through this “semi-charmed kind of life.”
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