CD Review of Riot Act by Pearl Jam

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Riot Act
starstarstarstarno star Label: Sony
Released: 2002
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Ten and Vs. to this latest bloom, Riot Act, a process that admittedly involved some growing pains but nonetheless delivered a constant stream of exceptional music. With Riot Act, Pearl Jam's seventh studio album, the progression continues.

For comparison purposes only, I'd say this disc most closely resembles the subtlety of Vitalogy. But to be honest, while annoyances like Creed and Limp Bizkit continue to profit from a constant recycling of the same drivel, these grunge survivors have never followed the same blueprint from one album to the next. Matt Cameron's work behind the drums drives "Can't Keep," an ideal opening track that flawlessly spills into "Save You," the album's premier rocker. The bluesy "1/2 Full" and, more notably, "Get Right" also pack some punch but neither can match the aggression heard on "Save You." The third cut, "Love Boat Captain," may have a cheesy name but there's nothing cheesy about the song; in fact, "LBC," which pays tribute to the nine fans who were tragically killed at the Roskilde Festival in June of 2000, will soon be mentioned in the same breath as other classic PJ ballads like "Nothingman," "Immortality" and "Elderly Woman." Bassist Jeff Ament wrote the punchy "Ghost," an evocative look at life and suicide that defiantly concludes with, "Bring it on 'cause I'm no victim," and guitarist Stone Gossard penned "All or None," the haunting track that winds the album down to a somber close.

Quite honestly, every last song on this disc deserves mention but I'll show some editorial restraint. Still, a review of Riot Act wouldn't be complete without pointing to the beautiful brilliance of "Thumbing My Way," perhaps the best track of the lot. The greatest songwriters tell the greatest stories, and Vedder has always been a gifted storyteller. On "Thumbing My Way," you can actually feel the asphalt beneath your feet as Eddie sings, "Counting steps…walking backwards on the road / Thumbing my way back to heaven." In fact, the writing on this entire album is inspiring, with gems like, "It's an art to live with pain / Mix the light into gray" and "Born on third / Thinks he got a triple" splashed throughout the 15-song lineup. And then there's the first single, "I Am Mine," which is loaded with amazing lyrics: "I know I was born and I know that I'll die / The in-between is mine."

If you hang around the music business for nearly 12 years and manage to produce seven sensational albums, you must be doing something right. Pearl Jam's fan base may have deteriorated somewhat and you rarely see them on MTV, but that's just the way they like it. To these veterans, being musicians has always been about the music, a rare concept in a realm dominated by flashy videos, lame awards shows and generic radio singles. Let's hope Pearl Jam has another couple decades left in the tank, although they'll have a hard time topping Riot Act.

~Jamey Codding