Riot Act, Pearl Jam's follow-up to the lively Binaural, has a little something for every Pearl Jam fan except those who swear by "Even Flow" alone.
The disc is a cross between the underplayed No Code, the more direct Yield and the forceful rock and odd experiments of Binaural, synthesizing all three strains of Pearl Jam's existence into one disc. That may sound like this is a culmination of all things great about the band, but that's not really the case.
Riot Act sounds nothing like its name; it has a warm fireplace sound, even on the rockers, of which there are too few. "Save You" is the best of these, with a great Mike McCready riff and Matt Cameron's stellar drum work, while "You Are" is an acid-drenched rocker, all vibrato and mood. A bit of the old punk influence surfaces on "Green Disease" and "Get Right," but it just doesn't ring true like it used to, not with the production and surrounded by the slower numbers, of which there are many this time out.
However, some of these are among the band's best. "Thumbing My Way" has a strong Springsteen influence, just an acoustic guitar and a tired Eddie Vedder telling his tales on the road. "Love Boat Captain" and "Can't Keep" are solid, if unremarkable, while "I Am Mine" plods along with little but Vedder's sonorous voice to carry it. Odd choice for a first single.
The political piece here is "Bushleaguer," a swipe at then-president George W., but like the rest of the album it is surprisingly restrained, sounding more like two men by the fireplace of a collegiate coffeehouse late at night, sipping lattes with foam and griping about Republicans. Vedder would punctuate the song in concert by impaling a W mask on the mic stand; that visual image does more than any of the spoken words do.Unfortunately, there's just not enough quality material to sustain repeated listens. Individual moments work fine, but much like No Code, the good moments don't outweigh the mundane ones. The rewards are here for those who care to dig; one just wishes there were more.