First Appeared at The Music Box, February 2003, Volume 10, #2
Written by John Metzger
As the early í90s grunge-scene has faded from view, Pearl Jam has devolved to embrace its roots as a punk-driven, classic rock-influenced ensemble. While its arty inclinations and political motivations have sometimes distracted the band from its otherwise superb music, the group never has failed to release anything less than an excellent recording. As a result, Pearl Jam has been one of the most consistent bands to emerge in the past decade.
Its seventh studio album Riot Act continues this phenomenal string of recordings, and while it is better than Binaural, itís not quite as solid as Yield. Instead of wailing and screaming the lyrics as frontman Eddie Vedder once did, he now delivers them with a world-weary dreaminess, despite whatís going on around him. Right from the opening meditation-rock of Canít Keep, Vedder allows his voice to glide with an Eastern-mystic gracefulness above the surrounding grind of guitar and drums. Likewise, on the punchy punk of Save You, Vedderís voice quivers with exhaustion before he finally unleashes a few howls and yowls as drums pound and guitars churn wildly. In actuality, this marriage of styles and energies works quite well, giving the impression that Vedder is so battered, beaten, and beleaguered by the world that he is about to become completely unglued.
Of course, thatís a rather amusing thought, given Vedder certainly has few of the stresses that plague the average American family. Then again, heís continuously used his position in the limelight ó sometimes to his own detriment ó to rail against authority and the status quo, often circumventing the traditional label/band/fan arrangements in the process. On Riot Act, he offers Bushleaguer ó a spoken-word commentary full of frustration and anger about Americaís so-called leader ó and the haunted Love Boat Captain ó a mournful song, on which the Roskilde Festivalís unnecessary death clatters away within crunchy guitars and somber organ. "All you need is love," Vedder chants during the fade-out, offering a knowingly idyllic solution to the worldís problems.
Indeed, much of Riot Act is geared towards awakening a spiritual revolution, one where love ultimately prevails and money no longer is king. "And the young, they can lose hope ícause they canít see beyond today," sings Vedder on Love Boat Captain, acknowledging the uphill struggle he faces in trying to motivate his fans.
Nevertheless, Vedder perseveres. He chants, "Love is the tower and youíre the key" on You Are, professes the evils of wealth on Green Disease, and warns that "the haves be having more/yet still bored," on Ĺ Full. Splashes of Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin drift about within each musical strain, adding to the aura of peace and love that hovers with the songs. Itís a noble cause, one for which compassion and understanding blast away at fearful conservative thinking. "Itís a hopeless situation and Iím starting to believe/That this hopeless situation is what I'm trying to achieve," he adds on the concluding All or None, signaling that neither Vedder nor Pearl Jam are anywhere close to giving up the fight, while urging anyone who will listen to try to remain optimistic about the future.
For the record, Riot Act is not the boldest of musical statements from a band that has made plenty of them. Instead, it draws from the finest elements of the groupís previous outings and reconfigures them into something that is equal parts familiar and fresh. This strategy worked remarkably well for the band on Yield, and though it may be a bit formulaic to cut a similar path through Riot Act, the truth of the matter is that itís once again successful.
Riot Act is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box