May 07, 2006

Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam

pjay.jpgWhen I brought home crappy report cards in school, I used to get the "potential" speech from my dad. You probably heard it too. It's the one that starts off something like, "I know you can do better than this, that you have the potential to do so much more." See? I knew you'd know what I'm talking about. One of my biggest peeves - due in some small part to my father, I'm sure - is when fantastic artists release mediocre albums. It happens all the the time. You know, you hit the store, buy an album and as much as you might want to really dig it, you're underwhelmed. All because you know that they can deliver better. Since they released Vitalogy, that's been my thought about every Pearl Jam album.

Prior to the release of Ten, I'd been an ardent follower of Soundgarden and Mother Love Bone. When Andy Wood, Love Bone's singer, passed away and members of both bands formed Temple of the Dog, I moved into die-hard fan territory. To say I was ready when Pearl Jam, featuring members of Mother Love Bone and Temple, released their debut would be an understatement. I picked up my copy as it was being placed on store shelves. Since then, I've bought each Pearl Jam release on the day it hit stores.

Ten was a pivotal album for me, an important album. It took its place beside U2's Joshua Tree, Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. I guess it shouldn't be any surprise that I've found most albums Pearl Jam's released since then to be somewhat lackluster. While I'd never expect them to stand still, releasing Ten clones, I've always hoped they could recapture the magic of their debut release. I'm not sure that Pearl Jam doesn't do just that.

Life Wasted opens the album with the band's traditional grunge/punk hybrid. This and World Wide Suicide, which follows, prove to be gritty and tough yet rife with hooks. Each are just plain brilliant. The somewhat inconsequential Comatose follows, with Severed Hand up next with its strange guitar intro, bombastic rhythm section arrangement and astoundingly wonderful guitar contributions from Mike McCready and Stone Gossard. The band's virtuosity shines through once again on Marker In The Sand, one of my personal favorites on the album. It is nothing short of astoundingly brilliant. Parachutes provides the first quiet spot on the album. Despite my determination not to like it - I typically don't go for breezy, acoustic guitar-jangling songs such as this - I honestly can't help myself. Unemployable and Big Wave, both up-tempo rockers follow then yield to the melancholy Gone, another one of my favorites. Wasted Reprise flashes back to the album's first track before the plodding, hook-driven Army Reserve takes over. Bluesy timelessness is encapsulated by Come Back before the album is brought to a close by Inside Job. I'm fairly certain the band listened to Pink Floyd's Animals a few times before recording the song, yet it's anything but derivative. In two words? Fucking brilliant.

If you can't tell, I liked it. I wanted to find some roofs to yell "Pearl Jam's back, baby" from the tops of. Listening to Pearl Jam is a blast. There are times in which you can close your eyes and know for absolute certain that this is the same group who recorded Ten, one of the greatest albums ever recorded. There are moments in which Pearl Jam proves to be one of the greats as well.

Posted by Chris at May 7, 2006 07:48 AM

Great review. I gave the album my first full listen yesterday morning and I do need a few more listens before I decide just how much I like it - although I can say right now it's definitely a lot better than Riot Act or Binaural. I tend to agree that Ten is still their greatest album, although there was a time not so long ago that I considered them my favorite band.

I will say that seeing them live in 1998 was the best concert I've ever been to. I have tickets to see them again in about a month. Can't wait.

Posted by: Daria at May 7, 2006 08:12 AM

I'm still fairly mad at Pearl Jam for letting me down so hard. I too loved "Ten". Everything since then has been a huge bummer.

I'll check this one out.

Posted by: Sarah at May 7, 2006 08:23 AM

Oh man... I've been listening over and over again to World Wide Suicide, hoping that the rest of the album was as good. Now I must go out and get it today. Thanks for the review!

Posted by: amber at May 7, 2006 09:10 AM

I love Pearl Jam so thanks for the awesome review. I'll be sure to check this one out!

Posted by: VirgoJen at May 7, 2006 10:08 AM

Wow. I thought you were going to say it sucked. I was prepared for that. Now I'm going to have to DL it on iTunes. I had really given up on a great Pearl Jam album. I'm so excited that "they're back!" lol

Posted by: Betty at May 7, 2006 10:24 AM

about time... Thanks for the review. I'm gonna have to give this one a try! P.S. Love your personal album pantheon!

Posted by: Kara at May 7, 2006 10:45 AM

I started hearing some buzz about this album a few weeks ago and I'll admit I got excited. But Pearl Jam has let me down before so I was a bit hesitant. I think you've convinced me that the new album is worth the purchase, and now I'm REALLY excited about it!

Posted by: Beth in StL at May 7, 2006 11:33 AM

This is JUST what I wanted to hear. I think I'll go pick it up today!

Posted by: laura at May 7, 2006 12:02 PM

Admittedly I'm part of the PJ choir of the (newly) converted, but yeah, I like this one this too. I was far too pretentious is college to understand 10's brilliance and it's still not my favourite - love love love No Code. Maybe it's my love for the off-the-beaten track but all this hype does make me skeptical... my alt-rock ethic cringes just a little bit with it all. But the albumis good. Very good. Part of me was hoping I'd have to work a bit harder for it.

Let's just hope they don't take the U2 path...(who have, in my opinion, jumped the shark.) Old guys making cash... yeah, I'm that cynical.

I'm off to Toronto mid-week to see the first show of the Tour. Should be a blast. Check my blog for a review. (/end of shameless plug)


Posted by: Nat at May 7, 2006 01:01 PM

I've been hoping you'd review this one. :)

Posted by: Heather at May 7, 2006 01:18 PM

I'll believe it when I hear it, but this is heartening. I was always more of a fan of Vs., personally, but I'm weird that way. But they've just been so average lately...

I'll cross my fingers and trust you on this one...

Posted by: CroutonBoy at May 7, 2006 01:32 PM

I saw them in Toronto in September 05, Bono came on stage and sang with them as well.

Probably one of the best shows I've been to.

This release and TOOL's new album this week are amazing.

Posted by: Stacey at May 7, 2006 01:40 PM

I've heard that from a lot of people. I think I might have to get it. Ten was a pivotable album for me as well, an important soundtrack to a specific time in my life, and the things I was going through.

Posted by: jodi at May 7, 2006 01:51 PM

Your review is so encouraging. I loved 10, and thought that Vitology was amazing. I've been waiting for another great album from them ever since. Going to have to get the new album ASAP!

Posted by: Vaguely Urban at May 7, 2006 02:11 PM

SO GLAD to hear this. Ten has been on near constant play in my house and car since its release. It is one of my all time favorite albums. I've been disappointed in every release since. Can't wait to get this one though!

Posted by: Amy at May 7, 2006 02:57 PM

I too am a brother of the Pearl Jam fraternity. I've had my 10Club membership for years, I go see them everytime they tour, and I too buy the album the day it comes out. But post-Vitalogy has been gloomy days. 12 Years, and 5 albums, and finally, Pearl Jam has restored its eary 90's glory. They say when a band names their album after the band name, that's supposed to encompass the bands style and true music. I think they did a damn good job. I'm not inspired to post more on my blog...check it in a bit!

Posted by: Chris at May 7, 2006 03:41 PM

I did like Ten. I think it's law if you were born in the 70's. However, Eddie Vedder's voice just started to grate on me. It might be the personal link I have with the song "Jeremy", but I think that it's the constant pedagogical (sp?) nature of the lyrics without the earnest youth behind it that Ten and Temple of the Dog still held onto. It's like listening to the hippie cousin of your father's who is trying to convince you that all medicine is wrong and that children know so much more than adults that it's ok that he doesn't do a damned thing to take care of his own. Not that I have strong feelings about Pearl Jam, or anything...

Posted by: alektra at May 7, 2006 05:09 PM

Hey you!! Thank you for that review. I was nervous throughout the first paragraph that it was going to be another yawner, but apparently not so. I am going to go so far to say that I may even purchase this one.

Side note relating to Pearl Jam. I had to back off of my heavy fandom for them when at the Boulder Field House (I think - it's been many a year now) I was surrounded by frat boys waving their stupid lighters to Jeremy. I wanted to punch every one of them and I deeply wished Eddie Vedder would leave the stage out of sheer disgust. Alas, it was I who left feeling that I'd lost my band to the masses much like Metallica a few years earlier. Maybe now I can welcome them back... ;-)

Posted by: Amy at May 7, 2006 11:32 PM

I so totally agree with you about PJ since Vitalogy. With this glowing review from you, I just might have to check this one out. I'd given up on them...maybe I'll give 'em one more shot.

Posted by: candace at May 7, 2006 11:48 PM

I got that talk, too. Even when the report card was good but not great. Unfortunately, what was required wasn't just a set of parents who thought I could do better...but a set of parents who based their assertions on reality and then were willing to examine what they were or were not doing to help. Yeah...I know that's not what the post was about. I'm just saying that it's important--as a parent--to share responsibility for the mediocre work. Easy to do as a parent...but as a lover of music--not so much.

Posted by: wordgirl at May 8, 2006 12:59 AM

i am glad you posted this review. I feel the same way about Pearl Jam albums as you..Ten was the high point for me and since then "it" just hasnt been there. I enjoy WOrld Wide Suicide...Perhaps i will go and buy this album after all. ;)

Posted by: kristied at May 8, 2006 02:02 AM

Chris, hello from Idaho. Wow...flashback to my youth....god I feel sooo old (35). Makes it worse when Kevin and Ginny are 8 years younger than me. I'm glad Pearl Jam has a new album out..They were kind of a bittersweet love for me...with them and marked the end of heavy metal hair bands era...which was my highschool days...sigh.

Posted by: Lisa at May 8, 2006 05:52 AM

Maybe I'm just sick of Pearl Jam (b/c they play an hour block of the same crap each night at 9PM on a local radio station here in PA), but to me, World Wide Suicide sounds like drunken singing. I think he could've definitely done better, less mumbling and more announciation. But that's just me.

Posted by: Michelle at May 8, 2006 08:22 AM

It's good to see Pearl Jam back. I was wondering how this new album of theirs was, I have just about all of them and still have my first version of Ten in cassette! I used to work at a music store so I bought a few of their imports too. Do you like Red Hot Chili Peppers? If so make your next review on their new CD. I'm sure it's brilliant as well but it's always better hearing a review from someone who likes the music rather than RS or Spin who pretty much either say it's shit or rave on something that actually sucks. lol

Posted by: Sabrina at May 8, 2006 03:38 PM

I just read and article in Entertainment Weekly that said Pearl Jam is the new Grateful Dead. Apparently Pearl Jammers visited and studied the Grateful Dead fan clubs and headquarters and have emulated the Dead in concert vibe and fan frenzy, with much success. Wierd, huh?

Posted by: Kris at May 8, 2006 09:54 PM