Generally, once a band has six studio albums under their belt, they start to play things safe. In fact, by that time, the band has usually been playing things safe for a while. Jimmy Eat World is a little different. Their self-titled debut was a garage rock record. Their sophomore effort, Static Prevails, was heavily influenced by emocore. Their next album, Clarity, was a breathtaking work of indie pop. Bleed American veered into pop-punk territory. Futures took on a dark alt-rock feel. Chase This Light was a pure pop album.

That brings us to Invented. Jimmy Eat World’s seventh studio album marks the return of producer Mark Trombino, who produced all of the band’s albums from Static Prevails to Bleed American. Trombino has an ear for getting exactly the correct timbres required to create the proper feel for each song; Clarity often gives the impression that Jimmy Eat World went to a music store, bought every instrument they found, and then had fun with their purchases in the studio. A lot of the band’s fans would welcome a return to that approach. However, Jimmy Eat World has released three albums since then, both of which stray far away from their previous work, adopting a more traditional approach to instrumentation.

With six studio albums under their belt, Jimmy Eat World had a lot of options for this album. They could go back to their old approach or stick with their new one. They could pick any one of their albums and essentially write a sequel to it, or they could pick an entirely different sound. What the band chose to do is interesting: they played it safe. They stayed with traditional rock instrumentation, but they brought back the programmed beats and mallet percussion that form part of Trombino’s signature sound. Instead of picking a single sound, they chose to combine their sounds from Clarity, Bleed American, Futures, and Chase This Light. The result is an album that, while somewhat predictable, is an excellent listen from start to finish and is easily my favourite album of the year so far.

There is not a single dud on the album. It kicks off with “Heart Is Hard To Find,” which features lightly strummed guitar work and processed strings, and ends with “Mixtape,” another one of the band’s “epic” closing tracks. While it doesn’t quite measure up to “Goodbye Sky Harbor” or “23,” it easily beats “Anderson Mesa” and “My Sundown.” Standout tracks include “My Best Theory,” “Higher Devotion,” “Stop,” and “Littlething.” “My Best Theory” is the album’s first single and is an energetic, minor-key rocker that would have felt right at home on Futures. “Higher Devotion” has a bit of a dancy feel and is enhanced by backing female vocals. “Stop” sounds like something from the Bleed American sessions, but it fits really well into the album here. “Littlething” is probably my favourite track on the album, a string-backed ballad, reminiscent of Chase This Light’s “Dizzy,” but better. It’s the kind of song that seems destined to end up on the soundtrack of a hip teen drama (which isn’t a bad thing at all).

Though Invented is a relatively safe album, the guitar work is more adventurous than on the band’s previous works. While none of the songs feature full-blown guitar solos like the ones in “The Middle” or “23,” There’s more willingness to let the guitars carry a few of the lines, bridging the gaps between verses, and I welcome it. Tom Linton’s vocals seem to have made a comeback. Though they’re mainly limited to “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing,” Linton gets a song of his own, “Action Needs An Audience,” a rousing punk song. Linton’s vocals have improved a lot since Static Prevails, so it’s nice to hear what he can do. And speaking of vocals, Jim Adkins has been improving with every album. Here, he sounds damn impressive.

Invented isn’t going to end up on anybody’s “best of” list, but it’s a solid entry in what’s otherwise been a dismal year for music. (I’m still reeling from the disappointment of The National’s High Violet). It doesn’t break any sonic ground, but it’s a very enjoyable listen. If you like mixing pop, punk, and indie, then this is the album for you.

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