Pearl Jam’s self-titled eighth album is a stunning return to form. What that form is exactly, is not easy to answer. These certainly aren’t the same grungers who broke through in the early 90’s with Ten. But after four albums worth of necessary wanderings (and numerous great tracks), Pearl Jam’s new album seems to find the band in a place where they belong.
This is album is chockfull of, well, rock n’ roll. From the opening track “Life Wasted” to the satisfying ending reverberations of “Inside Job,” Pearl Jam has made an album that is listenable from beginning to end.
Given the band’s commitment to various social, political, etc. causes, its not surprising that this album finds the band dealing with those issues in their own way. But rather than fill their lyrics with brainless and obvious political sloganeering, the group chooses instead focus on the problem in general rather than just point fingers. “World Wide Suicide” is a great example. The closest we get to naming a person is “the president.” There are lots of “theys” and “thems,” but never does the band resort to saying “George Bush is a dick” (which incidentally he is of course). But the song seems more powerful for that reason. The problems of the government can never solely be laid at the feet of one person. The problems are endemic and widespread. For this reason, the lyrics throughout the album seem more intelligent than they would if the band had relied on political fingerpointing and blame-laying.
The album also has a couple of songs that are basically “storytellers,” and they also work well on the album. Here, the band brings political and social problems into focus by imagining how they affect the individual and the family. “Unemployable” looks at how the lack of work for the poor can tear families apart. “Army Reserve” looks at a mother’s worry about her son growing up with an absent father who has been shipped off to fight, presumably in Iraw or Afghanistan. Again, the songs work intellectually or emotionally becauseof their ability not to point fingers as specific people, but rather focus on who the problems actually affect, a view generally lost in high falutin’ political discourse of the kind that takes place on Capitol Hill.
But finally, its the rock that really makes the album a barn burner. The number of fast, heavier tracks outweigh the number slower but well-placed songs, yet even the faster songs have a depth that really appears after several listens. The organ near the end of “Marker in the Sand,” or the piano on “Inside Job,” a song that builds to a rocking, triumphant close and provides the album with a very positive, hopeful ending. By far, one of my favorites this year.
Some of my favorite tracks include, “Comatose,” “Severed Hand,” “Unemployable,” and “Inside Job.”