Jimmy Eat World were sitting on top of the emo-pop world before the release of their last album, Futures. Its dark, inward-looking, and more mature-sounding songs didn't wreck their career, but the record didn't exactly further it, either. With Chase This Light, the band returns to the straightforward, hooky, and radio-friendly sound of Bleed American and lightens things up in the lyric department in hopes of recapturing its position in the marketplace. They aren't exactly singing about sunshine and lollipops, mostly love problems and the ills of society, but the cloud of gloom that settled over Futures has lifted. The band is back to following the rough template of Bleed American and the albums that came before it, with a mix of rousing anthems like "Big Casino," "Electable (Give It Up)," and "Feeling Lucky;" melancholy rockers with singalong choruses like "Always Be" and "Chase This Light;" and sweet ballads like "Carry You" and "Dizzy" (which strangely sounds like an outtake from Def Leppard's Hysteria). Only the moody and dark (with strings) "Gotta Be Somebody's Blues" hints at the mature sound of the last album.
Chase This Light isn't Futures, Pt. 2, but it also falls short of being another Bleed American. Partially, it's Jimmy Eat World's obvious desire to go back to the sound that made them huge that does them in -- that kind of desperation move is rarely successful and it doesn't work here. Partially, it's the feel of the record. The polished and groomed-to-perfection sound is huge, dry, and airless, the controlled and note-perfect vocals lack passion, and the overall lack of imagination is disheartening. Simply put, it's a bland-sounding record, which is too bad because Jim Adkins really does have a knack for writing good pop songs. With a little more punch or soul, "Carry You" and "Feeling Lucky" could have been special. As they are, all they can manage to be is pleasant. Only the ultra-light and poppy "Here It Goes" manages to stand out, thanks to its goofy handclaps, synthesized voices, and loose backing vocals. A little more willingness to take chances like this would have served the album well, since a combination of slick sounds, surprise-free arrangements, and pleasant tunes on Chase This Light makes Jimmy Eat World the emo version of Bon Jovi -- that's to say, nice to listen to and vaguely uplifting, but ultimately empty on the inside. Jimmy Eat World have proven they can do better than this and they may yet, but this album is a bit of a disappointment.