Jimmy Eat World and the Donnas

Record review

Phases & Stages

Jimmy Eat World

Futures (Interscope)

The Donnas

Gold Medal (Atlantic)

After career albums Spend the Night and Jimmy Eat World, the Donnas and Jimmy Eat World each find themselves asking, "What now?" Long gone are the halcyon days of hand-to-mouth van tours, as both bands' new albums are clearly informed – and, to a lesser extent, impeded – by the weight of big-label expectations. Ironically, although runaway hit "The Middle" means they're under about three times as much pressure, Jimmy Eat World emerges relatively unscathed, mostly because translating roiling angst into hummable tunes is the Arizona quartet's specialty. Futures may be a shade darker and less radio-friendly, but it's also deeper and more intimate. Singer Jim Adkins remains the sort of lyricist for whom "say hello to good times" is more warning than exhortation, but neither can he quite let go of that nagging kernel of hope. Meltdowns "Pain" and "Nothingwrong" are A-plus exercises in catharsis; "Just Tonight," "Work" – nice backing vox by Liz Phair – and "The World You Love" let in just enough light to allow that kernel to blossom. The Donnas, unfortunately, have gone from carefree party girls to jaded cynics practically overnight. The Armor All riffs and vacuum tightness are intact – drummer Torry Castellano and guitarist Allison Robertson are each virtually peerless on their chosen instruments – but the spirited backseat romps and gum-snapping glee of Spend the Night have been supplanted by dead-end relationships and backstabbing friends. Like Chris "The Scientist" Martin said, nobody said it was easy, but ladies, it has to be easier than this.

(Futures) ***

(Gold Medal) ** 

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