I have fallen in love with a disproportionately large number of my favorite albums in cars. Riding in cars, sleeping in cars, driving in cars, singing in cars. 15-minute drives to school in cars and cross-country road trips in cars. Nighttime drives with no other cars on the road and gridlocked rush hour drives with hundreds of other cars on the road. Hot-as-hell summer drives in cars and cold-as-ice winter drives in cars that were slipping and sliding down snow-covered roads. Celebratory “turn the music up” moments in cars with friends, and long, lonely, sad solo drives in cars with nothing but the music and my own thoughts to keep me company. There is something about being in transit in an automobile that makes music sound better, and it’s something that can’t be replicated on a boat, or a plane, or a train, or a subway, or a city bus. It’s the combination of the small space and the big sound, of the endless scenery flying by outside the window and the tiny self-contained environment of the vehicle. The right car ride can make a good album sound great and a great album sound immaculate. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that my fondest years of musical discovery align directly with the years where I spent the most time in cars.
I bring all this up here because there are very few albums that I have listened to in cars more times than Jimmy Eat World’s Invented, which turns 10 today. Invented has the distinction of being the very last album for which I got into a car and drove to a store to buy the CD. It is an album that, consequently, remained in my car CD player for the better part of an entire school year, coloring a thousand little moments that otherwise might have been attached to a disparate array of other albums. And it’s a record that I listened to probably 100-plus times while driving across the state of Michigan in the fall of 2010, trying to shrink the long distance in a relationship that I wanted to make sure would last.
Invented came out when I was a sophomore in college, just as autumn was hitting my university campus. There are few things that make me nostalgic like thinking about fall on a college campus: the first weeks of classes; the crisp, cool air; the leaves changing color; the excitement of being back with friends and roommates after a summer season away; the parties that are just a little wilder because everyone’s been apart for such a (relatively) long time. All these things, for me, are tied up in the songs that make up Invented, a sometimes delicate and sometimes brash album that, for three or four months that year, meant more to me than maybe any other record I’d ever heard. Two albums earlier, Jimmy Eat World had shifted the course of my life with Futures, another crisp, cold autumnal classic that acted as a mirror to my life and showed me how much music could mean when you really needed it. For a brief moment in the fall of 2010, I wholeheartedly thought that Jimmy Eat World had somehow bested Futures with Invented. I couldn’t believe how much this album seemed to reflect where I was at that particular moment in time. It’s a gift that Jimmy Eat World have continued to have with each subsequent album they have released—and part of the reason that their records, save Futures, never seem to mean quite as much to me after that initial euphoric burst of connection and adoration.
In my life, no other band’s music has so repeatedly and so eerily coincided with significant life moments. Futures arrived just when I was primed to go from music enthusiast to music obsessive (and from carefree kid to angsty adolescent). Chase This Light released when I was on the cusp of the rude awakening that is coming-of-age. Damage hit my inbox the week before I graduated from college and embarked upon the strange, fascinating journey of adulthood. Invented may have played soundtrack for the most significant life stage of all: falling in love with the girl I would someday, somehow, convince to marry me. After spending an idyllic summer in one another’s (near-constant) company, we followed the cue of the break of September and headed back to our respective college campuses.
And that’s where the cars come in. Both of us spent a lot of time on the road that fall. Door-to-door, we were about 100 miles apart, and one of us drove that distance almost every weekend. Sometimes, we’d mix it up and both drive the 200-plus miles north to our hometown to spend time with one another and our respective families. My Honda Civic, with its busted speedometer and odometer, hadn’t tracked mileage since the previous year, but I can only begin to imagine how many miles I racked up over the course of that year and the ensuing two, as we continued variations on the long-distance relationship theme. For a very significant part of my life, it wasn’t unusual for me to spend two or three hours in the car on Friday and Sunday afternoons. I’m not sure any album got more play on those drives than Invented.
“You’re always in my head/You’re just what I wanted/I live in constant debt/To feel you, invented.” As the miles ticked by, those words got stuck in my brain like the thought of her face or the sound of her voice. Driving away from her once a week got mighty old, but the songs on Invented felt like little comforts, even when the songs were sad. These are classic mixtape songs: the photo-album memories of “Invented,” faded and distant but still full of intense feeling; the long nights spent staying up with someone close to you in “Coffee & Cigarettes,” before distance or jobs or years spent apart got in the way; in “Littlething,” finding the courage on the cab ride home to ask the girl you’re falling in love with to stay with you tonight; in “Stop” and “Cut,” the exhaustion of a relationship that has run its course and devolved into misalignment and hurt. There’s even a song called “Mixtape,” with the kind of symphonic swell that feels like the big grandiose coda scene to some romantic TV season finale.
At its best, Invented has always reminded me a little bit of Lloyd Dobler from Say Anything: standing there on the lawn and holding his stereo aloft, hoping against hope that his big romantic gesture will find its mark. Like Lloyd, Invented is all heart and sensitivity, all earnestness. Like Lloyd’s story, it’s full of potentially misplaced optimism, crushing heartbreak, and then, at the end, maybe a ray of light. Invented is far from devoid of sad songs, but it’s always felt hopeful to me: “Movielike,” with the crackle of anticipation that comes from making a fresh start in a new place, or the feeling in “Evidence” that seeing the girl you love put on a dress you’ve never seen—even if it’s meant to impress someone else—might not be the end of the line just yet. In another Cameron Crowe movie, a character states that all you need to change your life sometimes is “20 seconds of insane courage.” It’s the courage to hoist that stereo in the air and proclaim that the words of a song express what’s in your heart, or to say something as bold as “Any dick can roll up in a suit/But only I would know what really moves you.” And it’s a courage the characters in these songs seem to muster up repeatedly, whether they’re reaching out for someone new or saying the words that will probably break someone else’s heart.
“Maybe we could put your tape back on/Rewind until the moment we went wrong.” So begins “Mixtape,” the song that brings Invented to its big, crashing, cathartic finale. It’s a poetic bit of writing and sequencing that encourages you to flip the record over and press play again, or to let the CD keep spinning until your stereo circles you back to the percussive acoustic guitars and handclaps that herald “Heart Is Hard to Find,” the album’s opener. On those long drives, I cycled through Invented again and again, constantly rewinding to the moments that clung to my heart. That’s the great thing about an album you love: you can put the tape back on and relive it all again. Invented really does feel like a mixtape, too: the happy songs and the sad ones; the slow ones and the fast ones; the transcendent ones and the iffy ones (I’ve never had much use for “Higher Devotion” or “Action Needs an Audience”). And like a mixtape, I eventually came to enjoy Invented more in pieces than as a single cohesive listen. “Coffee & Cigarettes” was a must-have on my end-of-college playlist; “Movielike” is one of my go-to beginning-of-fall songs; “Invented” ended up on a mix I made for my girlfriend that year. I still love the album, but it’s lost some of its magic for me in the 10 years since it came out, falling from “This might be better than Futures” to “Well, something has to bring up the rear on my 1999-and-on Jimmy Eat World ranking.”
Sometimes, the albums you love when you’re young continue to grow and change with you over time, collecting new memories and fresh personal significance. Sometimes, they remain so inextricably linked to the past that it’s hard to hear them in the same way as the years fly by and you shed the layers of who you were before. Invented is the latter for me. I suppose that was inevitable, just given how many times I listened to it and how much I associate it with some not-so-welcome feelings from that time: driving away from the only person I wanted to spend my time with, for another slog of a week at school; long walks across campus on miserable, cold days; starting to question my college major, my career path, and my entire future as the promise of my first year of college soured into dissatisfaction and doubt during my second. But then every once in awhile, I’ll slide that Invented disc back into my car’s CD player, and it’ll be like nothing’s changed at all. I’ll hear “Coffee & Cigarettes” surging out of the speakers like a megaton drum, or feel my heart skip a beat at the acoustic chords on “Invented” that remind me of so many lost moments, both good and bad. When you fall in love with music in cars, that’s sometimes the only place they sound right. On the record player or in my headphones on a run, Invented sounds hit-or-miss, disjointed, like songs searching for something to unify them. On the open road, it still sounds like magic.