So how long did you last in Pearl Jam University? Most music fans seem to have studied till their junior year, eating up the freshman perfection of Ten, the gallant demeanor of their sophomore Vs. and the junior experimentation of Vitalogy. Most dropped out around here, but some graduated with an iffy No Code, and a few even did Masters work with Yield, Binaural, and Riot Act while they tried to find themselves. Now the band has closed down the dorms at Epic and moved cross town to fresher digs at J records with the release of their new self-titled effort. It’s been receiving the full court promotional press, and with good reason, as Pearl Jam shows a band blooming in full rage.
Ringing guitar work dominates from the launch and “Life Wasted,” “World Wide Suicide” and “Comatose” prove the northwest quintet can deliver the rumble. “Comatose” in particular is an anthemic muscle car movement with Jeff Ament’s pistoning bass and Eddie Vedder caterwauling lyrics snaked from Kevin Spacey’s notebook in Seven, then inflicting a descending baritone come chorus time.
Following the triple trouble power trio are the gems, “Severed Hand” and “Marker in the Sand.” The former gets slapped forwarded by Matt Cameron’s snare and some well inserted electrical effects. “Marker in the Sand” questions God over swaggering guitar lines from Mike McCready and Stone Gossard in glorious fashion. This is surely to become a highlight of the live set, in fact all of these songs lend themselves to exploration. There isn’t a throw away in the bunch.
The last few Pearl Jam albums have been highlighted by great slow songs (see Riot Act’s “I Am Mine”). “Gone” and “Come Back” show off the achy, twisted torch song craft this group developed off of the back of “Black.” Omnipresent are the infectious guitar hooks that energize the album, McCready and Gossard fire sonic lasers both leading and underscoring like assassins.
Vedder’s voice sounds more part of the instrumentation then ever; the harmonies backing him also help the sound cascade in “Unemployable” and the spacious piano accentuated “Inside Job.” The balls out rockers (“Big Wave”) and the off-beat rambles (“Parachutes”) both feel more grown up than on past efforts, illuminating a veteran band that challenged itself to become more focused, and succeeded.
Frantic emotions and a disdain for the current cultural and political zeitgeist has soaked into the songs rather then screamed out separately from them, a wise move, even when dealing with its title as most bands use a self-titled album upon a first release or a greatest hits package. Releasing this set of songs with the only the band’s name (and an avocado on the cover) makes a statement that they’re united in reclaiming their roots with PJ’s strongest offering since its inception. For all you new school rockers, class is in session.
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