If and when Eddie Vedder and cohorts decide to retire from making music they should think about getting jobs at their local colleges teaching would-be young entrepreneurs on how to run a successful cottage industry.
No, really. You see, the Pearl Jam story post-1994 has been pretty straightforward. Release a new studio album every two years. Co-produce it. Design the packaging yourself. Don’t do any PR for it. Don’t shoot any videos. Sell a couple of million copies from the privacy of your own home. Thank you very much.
Now we forgot to mention that all of this has been a sub-plot in the masterplan of safeguarding Pearl Jam’s personal privacy, with the stroke of genius to facilitate this being that each album has gotten progressively less inspired.
Except, here’s the thing. They’ve gone and ballsed it all up. Twelve years of careful self-sabotage and self-erosion of a fanbase (while doing enough to keep a bank balance with enough digits to resemble a telephone number) is about to be undone by Pearl Jam’s very own hands because their eighth studio album is… pretty damn good.
The world has already cottoned on. World Wide Suicide had radio stations doing world wide cartwheels when it was released and as catchy and ultra-memorable as it may be, it’s not even the best track here. In fact, the opening quintet of which it is a part – featuring the kick-ass Life Wasted, the punk-tastic Comatose (reminiscent of Spin The Black Circle), the funkily rocky Severed Hand and the Springsteen-goes-loud Marker In The Sand – is the most consistent (not to mention raucous) set of songs Pearl Jam have committed to disc since they started being “awkward” with Vitalogy.
Of course, they are still trying to lull us into a false sense of insecurity regarding their prowess, and we’re not just referring to the “imaginative” album title. The childlike guitar line and Vedder’s accompanying melodic vocal in Parachutes takes you on a one-way journey to Cheeseland, while Army Reserve is occasionally atmospheric but ultimately a tad anonymous.
However, the fact remains that when you’re this talented – they wrote Alive, Even Flow, Black, Rearviewmirror and Corduroy for goodness sake – there’s only so much mediocrity you can force out before the greatness inside has to manifest itself again. And so, there’s the slightly poppy Americana of Unemployable; the explosive, surf-soundtrack Big Wave; the Given To Fly-style acoustic build of Gone; the waltzy Come Back; and the gorgeous guitars and piano of Inside Job to soak in repeatedly.
Heck, even the lyrics are better, ranging from the self-pepping (“I have faced it / A life wasted / I’m never going back again”) to the poetic (“Thinking if he can’t sleep / How will he ever dream?”) to the political but, thankfully, not preachy (“Now you got both sides claiming killing in God’s name… God, what do you say?”).
In short, Pearl Jam are back. Not to the glories of the first three albums but certainly to a level that would keep most bands deliriously happy. Now, if we could only convince them to tour more often than the Olympic cycle…