By Brian Heisler
The world might not stop when Pearl Jam releases new music, but it definitely turns and looks over its shoulder. The eighth studio album in the band’s almost 16 years, and first in three and a half years, is indeed self-titled and that is no mistake. While it has been well more than a decade and 12 million sales since Ten was released, Eddie Vedder and company prove their musical roots still hold strong on Pearl Jam. It is unlikely that you will see a Pearl Jam iPod or Vcast in the near future. The Seattle rockers used minimal marketing for a new release, instead sticking to their usual marketing method - writing good music and never straying too far from what got them to the top.
Much like the reemergence of Eddie's long hair, the album kicks off with the fast, raw, in-your-face "Life Wasted." The darkness of the song and the theme of fighting-off death surface in many other parts of the album as well. The band has made many public statements opposing the war in Iraq, so it comes as no surprise that the first single on the album, "World Wide Suicide," is an anti-war anthem. The song is loaded with direct opposition, as shown by the lyrics:
"Medals on a wooden Mantle
Next to a Handsome face
That the president took for granted
Writing checks that others pay"
In true Pearl Jam form, the song is harsh and straightforward. Pearl Jam continues with darkness as a subtle common theme of "falling" can be found in the lyrics of the songs "Comatose," "Severed Hand," "Marker in the Sand," "Parachutes," and "Army Reserve." Attacking a different angle of the times of war, "Army Reserve" tells of a mother who deals with raising and comforting her son in the absence of her husband.
While Pearl Jam contains no clear catchy songs like "Alive," "Daughter," or "Betterman," perhaps the closest pieces are in the middle of the album in three consecutive songs, "Unemployable," "Big Wave," and "Gone." This self-titled album represents what might be a matured taste for a steak rather than the adolescent taste for pizza. The album resonates with solid rock and songwriting but never truly lands that rock radio song you’re glad to have stuck in your head. Nevertheless, "Come Back" has all the makings of a classic live Pearl Jam song - slow intro, somber-yet-ranging vocals, calling chorus, heartfelt lyrics, crescendos, and a repetitive, yearning finale. It’s the kind of song you listen to laying on the hood of your car on a summer night, hands behind your head, watching the stars glimmer as Eddie Vedder’s voice and Mike McCready’s guitar wrap you in the blanket of carefree ease. And it’s this song that reminds us that this summer will be the first in three years we will be treated to a US Pearl Jam tour.
This entire new repertoire will be a great, fresh addition to the incredible Pearl Jam arsenal of songs left over from times when the band was classified as grunge, alternative, or any other description it has superseded. Pearl Jam is not likely to be the album we look back on as a favorite, but rather a strong package in a long line of classics. As some of the last unquestionable badasses of ‘90s rock, Pearl Jam made a very concise and meaningful piece of art with no restrictions. Even the 53-second "Wasted Reprise" works as artistic, transitional glue to connect the energetic ending of "Gone" with the first dark connotation from "Life Wasted" into the similar feeling of "Army Reserve." There are no loose ends or forced music or lyrics on this album. Perhaps that’s why this is Pearl Jam’s first album in three and half years - they only speak when they have something to say. And in this case, the band stamped its name on the product loud and clear with its simple title: Pearl Jam.
2006 Pearl Jam Tour Dates
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