Pearl Jam Label: J-Records
ALSO: Check out Jamey's Pearl Jam Deep Cuts list for a deeper look at PJ's extensive catalogue
Word is, Pearl Jam is back. Their self-titled offering, the band’s eighth in 15 years and their first since 2002’s Riot Act, has dozens of critics forecasting a return to prominence for the Seattle quintet. Mainly, it’s all the loud guitars that have everyone so amped up, prompting many to claim that Pearl Jam is heavier and, therefore, better than anything PJ has put out since 1994’s Vitalogy. While that’s true in many respects, it’s also quite misleading. Detractors have long condemned Pearl Jam for their experimental ways, failing to recognize the sound of a maturing band discovering itself. That’s a shame, because while PJ is sure to regain some long-lost fans with this latest release, most of those fans don’t know that Eddie Vedder and his fellow grunge survivors never stopped churning out great music. Some people just stopped paying attention.
Guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard must have had a blast recording this album. They crack the whip from the get-go with the opening track, “Life Wasted,” and sustain that pace for nearly 20 minutes, finally taking a breather five songs later with “Parachutes.” “World Wide Suicide,” the album’s second cut and its first single, ignited the comeback buzz and debuted at #3 on Billboard’s modern rock charts, in part because the band offered a free MP3 download of the song back in March. The garage rocker “Comatose” would’ve been right at home on Vitalogy, “Severed Hand” opens with a nod to Ten’s “Porch” and closes with a scorching McCready solo reminiscent of his “Even Flow” jam, and McCready and Gossard again lash out on “Big Wave,” Eddie’s high-octane ode to surfing.
But it’s not like this is anything new for Pearl Jam. Songs like “Save You” (Riot Act), “Gods’ Dice” (Binaural) and “Brain of J” (Yield) could’ve just as easily been included in this lineup, while Gossard’s ballad “Parachutes” is every bit as endearing as his “Light Years” was on Binaural. Even highlights like “Marker in the Sand” and “Unemployable,” which open with crunching guitars and raw vocals, slide effortlessly into the smooth kind of groove that makes the terribly underrated Yield so engaging. The difference here is, McCready and Gossard don’t give you much time to catch your breath in the early going, and even though the pace tapers off a bit toward the end with songs like “Gone,” “Army Reserve” and “Inside Job,” the album’s momentum is never threatened.
So is this the heaviest PJ release, start to finish, since Vitalogy? Probably. Is it their best album in more than a decade? Quite possibly. But those tempted to make such a bold claim should give Riot Act, Yield and No Code a listen (or a second chance) before anointing it as such. One thing I can say with certainty, though, is that Pearl Jam is one hell of a rock album delivered by one hell of a rock band. Word is, Pearl Jam is back. Truth is, they never went anywhere.