The Music Box's #9 album of 2006
First Appeared in The Music Box, June 2006, Volume 13, #6
Written by John Metzger
Right from the start, Pearl Jam has struck a tenuous balance between illuminating the moral decay of Western society and providing for the unbridled release of post-adolescent angst. In recent years, however, the restless pursuit of its muse combined with its admirable but no less self-righteous battles with both politicians and the music industry has alienated as many fans as it has concretized. On its eighth studio effort, which simply has been graced with the bandís moniker, Pearl Jam forsakes the experimentalism that has drifted through its work since it began recording Vitalogy, and aside from a smattering of acoustic-tinged numbers, the bulk of the album packs a punchy potency that is as exhilarating as it is poignant.
Universally cited as a back-to-basics affair, the eponymous outing finds Pearl Jam gleaning the best moments from its canon and injecting them with the graceful melodiousness of Yield as well as with the raw firepower of its youth. On songs such as Comatose and Big Wave, for example, the guitars of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready are fully unleashed, and they buzz like live wars through the electrical fury of the ensembleís aural assault while burning a direct line from The Who to Led Zeppelin to U2 to Pearl Jamís debut Ten. Likewise, front man Eddie Vedder sounds as if some great weight has been lifted from his shoulders, and he effusively casts off the weariness that had clung to his vocals throughout both Riot Act and Binaural. As a result, his bellows are as strikingly visceral as ever, yet itís the ghostly murmurs that lurk within each nuance-laden articulation that effectively fill in the emotional gaps in the affairís loose-knit storyline.
While thereís no mistaking the political intonations of a song such as World Wide Suicide, many of the other tracks on the eponymous album, when plucked out of context, initially appear to be less topical than they actually are. When heard in sequence, however, the collectionís overarching thematic flow becomes readily apparent. In fact, its latter half is, for all intents and purposes, a heartbreaking mini-opera, which finds tremendous empathy for those on the lower rung of Americaís economic ladder who, for financial reasons, have no choice left but to join the effort in Iraq. Unemployable sketches an image of a family man who recently lost his job; Gone ruminates upon the dissolution of the American Dream while also searching for an escape from lifeís downward spiral; Army Reserve is a vivid portrait of the worry felt by loved ones left stateside; and combining a í60s death- rock march with Vedderís gospel-and-soul-imbued delivery, Come Back is transformed into a mournful howl that seems to scream from the surviving relatives of those who have died in the conflict. Tying it all together and providing some light to the darkened affair is Inside Job, a prayer of hope and self-healing. Specific enough to make its point, yet vague enough to be universally approachable, Pearl Jamís self-titled outing paints a mature portrait not of red states and blue states, conservatives and liberals, or Republicans and Democrats, but of the anguish felt by a country that has been ripped apart by war and ravaged by corporate greed.
Of Further Interest...
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box