I hate to use a term like ?comeback album? for a band that never really left the music scene. However, Pearl Jam’s eighth album, which is untitled (but becoming known as the ?Avocado? album), may be the one that brings back the casual fan and thrusts them into the spotlight that they have shied away from for so long. Pearl Jam shunned endorsements, interviews and videos in the age of MTV. Despite being considered out of the ?mainstream,? they managed to stay relevant to fans, selling out major arenas around the country and moving millions of records and official concert bootlegs. This was due to their live show. Every concert promises to be something different, with set lists varied nightly, rarities and covers of their rock idols, as well as encores that are longer than most bands? main sets. This album is their debut release with J Records and is their first full-length studio release in four years.
The band is now doing interviews, making appearances on Letterman and SNL, and giving themselves the credit that is long overdue. And if ?Worldwide Suicide? is any indication, the rest of the world will be giving them credit, too. The first single debuted at number one on Billboard?s modern rock chart.
The album starts with the powerful one-two-three punch of ?Life Wasted,? ?WWS? and ?Comatose.? The first track features the battling guitars of Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, mixed with Eddie Vedder?s primal intensity on vocals. The lyrics show the maturity that has come with age and experience. Vedder seems to mock his younger, angrier self that spurned a fame that was built on angst: ?Darkness comes in waves/Tell me, why invite it to stay?/You?’re one with negativity/Yes, comfort is an energy/But why let the sad song play.? The video for ?Life Wasted? came out in May of 2006 and was the band?s first official video since 1998?s ?Do the Evolution.? ?Worldwide Suicide? is Pearl Jam at its best, with an immediate hook, driving rhythm section and lyrical imagery of the effects of war. ?Comatose? has a raw, punk-rock energy and is awesome performed live. With a McCready solo that borders on metal and Vedder?s style of singing through clenched teeth for which he is famous, it is hard to sit still while listening to this song.
Seeing the band perform ?Severed Hand? on SNL opened my eyes to the greatness of this song. So much happens before the first words are even sung, building to a trademark Pearl Jam crescendo. The anticipation begins with a light, airy sound before the drums and more guitars kick in for a second bridge. A third bridge takes it into an aggressive, pounding rhythm. When the words finally start, Vedder sounds a bit demented. When he asks, ?Want to take a ride?,? you can’t help but yell “YEAH!” with him.
The slow, emotion-drenched ?Come Back? has the aching, epic feel of ?Nothingman? from the band?s album Vitalogy. Vedder is amazing in that he can still evoke the kind of raw believable pain with his voice now that he?s at such a happy place in his personal life.
As much as ?Comatose? is a nod to their punk influence, the acoustic ?Parachutes? has an instantly recognizable Beatles influence. With Gossard and McCready?s carefree strumming, you can?t help but be happy when you hear this song. ?Gone,? the other slow track on the album, again showcases Vedder?s storytelling ability as he sings from the viewpoint of a man leaving the lights of the city behind.
The rest of the songs on the album continue to use great melodies and socially-timed lyrics with a softer but more powerful approach to address the problems of today?s society. ?Marker in the Sand? has a mix of good riffs, an infectiously catchy melody and lyrics that paint the picture of someone looking to God for guidance in this messed up world. ?Unemployable? is the story of a working-class man who just got laid off; the story opens as he dents his ?JESUS SAVES? ring when he punched his metal locker. ?Army Reserve,? with music written by bassist Jeff Ament, tells the story of a mother and child left behind while father is at war. An interesting note is that Damien Echols shares writing credits with Vedder on this song. Echols is on death row and has been making headlines for years due to the controversy surrounding the ?West Memphis Three,? who are well known to many metal fans. Pearl Jam, and specifically Vedder, have played a tremendous part in bringing this case to light by supporting Echols and the other two men who have been imprisoned (www.wm3.org).
?Inside Job? closes the album and is the first song to use McCready’s lyrics, causing you to wonder why he wasn?t writing songs earlier. The song, which exceeds seven minutes, starts off light and builds to a quicker tempo that matches the optimism of the lyrics.
Those who pre-ordered the album on Pearl Jam’s official website received a version of the album with different CD art and packaging than the retail version. Instead of the retail digipack packaging, the fan club pre-order resembles a book and has the liner notes bound inside it. In addition, a live CD of the band’s show on December 31, 1992 at The Academy in New York City also was included with the pre-order.
While Pearl Jam has continued to rock for the last 10 years with socially-charged songs, they return to their edgier, more aggressive roots with this venture. The band finally captures the energy that their live shows are famous for, and there is a sense of optimism that was lacking on the last two albums. To the fans that think that Vitalogy is the last album Pearl Jam made, I have this to say: Buy their self-titled CD today and welcome back.
THE VERDICT: 5/5