Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam

J Records, 2006

http://www.pearljam.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/29/2006

Four years separated this release from the downbeat Riot Act, an album that saw Pearl Jam temper its hard rock and punk influences for a softer, warmer sound. In those ensuing years, the band has switched record labels and added a keyboard player (Kenneth "Boom" Gaspar) to a more prominent role.

The result is one of the best albums of the year.

For the first time in a long while, the band is having fun again. The first five songs explode with energy, political (but not preachy) lyrics and a swagger not seen in some time, at least on record. "Comatose" is easily a cousin to prior hit "Spin The Black Circle," featuring a Ramones-like verse and guitar solo coupled with an AC/DC-like opening riff. The leadoff "Life Wasted" is a furious onslaught of rock, albeit stripped-down rock by way of Vs.

Obvious influences from the Who show up here, most notably on the single "World Wide Suicide," featuring urgent drumming courtesy of Matt Cameron and some great guitar work. Singer Eddie Vedder gets some backup in the vocals in the chorus with protest lyrics such as "It's a shame to awake in a world of pain / What does it mean when a war has taken over / It's the same everyday in a hell manmade / What can be saved and who will be left to hold her?". my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

"Severed Hand" gives in to some alt-rock guitar theatrics -- forgivable, since this was one of alt-rock's guiding lights -- before chugging into a slightly psychedelic riff and chorus reminiscent of Binaural's "Insignificance." The lyrics aren't great ("Once dissolved, we are free to grow / What is human? What is more? / I'll answer this when I get home,") but as usual the passion in Vedder's delivery supersedes the words.

It is truly a joy to hear Vedder back at his peak. He croons, growls, yelps, sings and even chuckles through these 13 songs, sounding like a pretense-free rock star. The band also has left behind the experimentation that has cluttered every record since 1994, opting instead for straight-ahead rock and balladry here; furious and tight where they need to be, loose and emotional at others, hearing Pearl Jam turn out music like this in 2006 is a treat.

"Parachutes" is a country-meets-Pink Floyd acoustic ballad with romantic lyrics, while "Unemployable" acidly tells the story of a man who lost his job ("Well, his wife and kid are sleeping but he's still awake / On his brain weighs the curse of thirty bills unpaid / Gets up, lights a cigarette he's grown to hate / Thinking if he can't sleep, how will he ever dream?"). Again, it's Vedder's passion that truly makes the song; in the hands of another singer, it wouldn't sound real.

The disc slightly falters near the end, with "Come Back," "Army Reserve" and a short reprise of "Life Wasted" failing to make any lasting impressions, though even mediocre Pearl Jam is still a joy. But the best song here -- indeed, one of the band's best tracks ever -- is the powerful closer "Inside Job." Opening with a sad acoustic guitar and some light phase-heavy electric guitar, the tracks slowly builds momentum with a pounding piano before exploding with the drums and bass halfway through. Vedder's delivery is one of anguished hope, almost as if a prisoner is seeing the sunlight for the first time in 10 years, and the lyrics match -- "I used to try and kill love, it was the highest sin / Breathing insecurity out and in / Searching hope, I'm shown the way to run straight / Pursuing the greater way for all."

It may have been said before, but this time it's the truth -- Pearl Jam is the band's best record since Vitalogy.

Rating: A-

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