Pop Goes the World: Derek Webb, “Jena & Jimmy”

Written by Music, Pop Goes the World

This week in Pop Goes the World, David Medsker takes us to church — sort of — with a look at a track from Derek Webb’s latest album.

I know that I had promised another set of cover tunes, but it can wait. The overall set isn’t really that great, anyway. Rare, yes, but not great.

God doesn’t get a whole lot of face time here on Popdose – and truth be told, I’m as guilty of that as everyone else – and technically, this song is no exception. The artist who wrote it, though, Derek Webb, is somewhat of a giant within the Christian pop community. Or, at least that is my perception of him, since I don’t really have an insider’s perspective of the scene. I can see where he might be viewed as a (*adopts Tina Fey twang*) maverick for making pop records that focus on social injustice and loving thy brother rather than the tried and true method of treacly arrangements, melba toast instrumentation, and a heaping dose of “Jesus.” Webb’s 2007 album, The Ringing Bell, is a pop gem in the vein of Matthew Sweet and Neil Finn, and his 2008 EP with wife Sandra McCracken has the best song Sheryl Crow never wrote (“When the Summer’s Gone”). Dude’s got skills.

He also has balls the size of watermelons, because for his latest album, Stockholm Syndrome, Webb has raised his protest flag even higher, delivering some scorching anti-war rants. But the really strange thing about Stockholm is the sound; Webb has shelved his classic guitar pop in favor of something more, um, contemporary. Oh, let’s stop beating about the bush – it sounds like a Beck record. Cut & paste, drum machines…it’s as far removed from The Ringing Bell as possible. And in truth, it’s an effort that’s easier to like in spirit than in execution. As my best friend Tim rightfully observed, Stockholm Syndrome is one of those albums that actually sinks in better when it’s not listened to from start to finish.

And it was that way that I found a song that Webb should send to Justin Timberlake, stat.

“Jena & Jimmy” takes the discotastic simplicity of Spoon’s “I Turn My Camera On” and gives it a supercharged chorus that has Timberlake’s name written all over it. “If you give me your love, I’ll give you my love, I’ll give you my love / Gonna take one kiss to shut you up, and that will be enough.” Trust me, it sings much, much better than it reads and, Webb being Webb, he surrounds that brilliantly simple chorus with the story of a party boy trying to score with an activist. There is a bit of a disconnect with the intro – they met at an anti-war rally, but are suddenly in a club – but once Webb has them where he wants them, the story gets amusing, as she talks about constitutional rights and he keeps buying her drinks in the hopes that she’ll lighten (open?) up. Timberlake would probably rewrite those bits, since no radio programmer from here to Baghdad is touching a song that opens with a line about bringing the troops back from the war. But he would be wise to keep the chorus intact.

I can’t help but think that there is a subtext to the story of Jena and Jimmy here, that Jena is Webb and Jimmy is the music industry, eager to get him into bed but not nearly as interested in his causes. Just a thought.

Derek Webb: Jena & Jimmy