Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pearl Jam Pearl Jam

I'm sure that you, all 10 loyal readers (5?), have been wondering exactly where my review of the new Pearl Jam album has been...it's been out for a full week, and I've said not a word. Well...there are just a couple of bands out there (*MUSIC NERD ALERT*) that require me to totally and fully digest the album before I can give it a full, honest review, and Pearl Jam's at the top of that list. But I've listened to it all the way through a few times now, so here we go.

First of all, I cannot figure out where to rank this album among Pearl Jam's others (not that that matters, since my opinion of it will shift completely next week...and the week after...). It's got a different vibe to it. And I don't mean in a "This is a completely new direction for the band...it's a rebirth!" crap that all bands (and media) are legally required to say every time they release a new album...I just mean that there's not a lot of ebb and flow. This is easily the most consistently intense PJ album since Vs. The first five songs are all pedal-to-the-medal, and though the pace slows throughout the last half of the album, the intensity doesn't go too far away. And there isn't too much to offer in the "deathly slow and gut wrenching" category of songs that, in the past, has included "Indifference", "Thumbing My Way", and others.

I guess the easiest way to do this is to go song by song.

Life Wasted - whereas their last album (Riot Act) started with a slow-burning song, "Can't Keep", this one starts with a cannon shot. This is a nice "don't waste time dwelling on the negative" them with lyrics like "You're always saying that there's something wrong/I'm starting to believe it's your plan all along" and "Darkness comes in waves/Tell me, why invite it to stay?". And it rocks. They performed this on Letterman the other day, and it's the first of many solos that Mike McCready absolutely rips to shreds...this, to me, is by far his best album.

World Wide Suicide - I already talked about this song here, so there's no need to dwell too much on it. Their first single since probably "Wishlist" where I didn't find myself wondering, "Why the hell did they release this song as a single?" Great, great stuff.

Comatose - starts with what sounds like some Tom Petty (or is that AC/DC?) chords and turns into something between Television and the Ramones. As of today, this is my favorite song on the album. Hard rock at its best.

Severed Hand - About two days ago, this was probably my favorite song. It changes daily. One of the two songs they did on SNL a few weeks back, this one starts slow and then explodes...once again finished off with a ridiculous McCready solo.

Marker in the Sand - Tomorrow, this will likely be my favorite song. The intensity is dialed back oh so slightly, and this song quickly settles into what I would call the Pearl Jam groove. And the lyrics are P-O-I-N-T-E-D. "Those undecided needn't have faith to be free/And those misguided, there was a plan for them to be/Now you got both sides claiming killing in God's name/But God is nowhere to be found, conveniently." Nice.

Parachutes - Out of nowhere comes this somewhere-between-Jack-Johnson-and-John-Lennon ditty, complete with dreamy lyrics and ukelele. "And I don't want to know your past/But together share the dawn/And I won't need nothing else/Cause when we're dead/We would've had it all and died." This deflates the ongoing tension from the first five tracks and opens up the more experimental half of the album.

Unemployable - Interesting melody on this one...can't quite get into it yet, but the lyrics are once again relevant and pointed. "He's got a big gold ring what says 'Jesus Saves'/And it's dented from the punch thrown at work that day/When he smashed the metal locker where he kept his things/After the big boss said, 'You best be on your way'/Oh yeah, so this life is sacrifice/Oh yeah, jumping trains just to survive." In one of the 153 PJ interviews I've read in the last month (can you believe how accessible they've been this time around? Usually, there's one major interview, and I soak in ever word...now you can't get away from them...Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly...), Eddie said he remembered on this album how to write from the third-person perspective, a la "Alive" and "Better Man" and a lot of the early songs. His sense of empathy is second to none, and it shows through a lot on Pearl Jam.

Big Wave - A surfing song, a straight forward rocker, a la "Sonic Reducer" or "Leaving Here" or "Breakerfall". Nothing special, but it's fun.

Gone - This is the first sighting of Dramatic Baritone Eddie ("Thumbing My Way", "Black", etc.), and though it picks up the pace toward the end, this is still a downbeat song by far. "No more upset mornings/No more trying evenings/This American Dream I am disbelieving"..."For the lights of this city/They have lost all feeling/Gonna leave 'em all behind me/'Cause this time/I'm gone."

Wasted Reprise - A pretty reprise of the "I've faced it, a life wasted" chorus from the album opener, less than a minute long.

Army Reserve - Another song with extremely poignant lyrics and a melody I'm not so sure about. The subject matter should be pretty obvious. "How long must she stand/Before the ground, it gives way/To an endless fall/She can feel this war on her face/Stars on her pillow/Folding in darkness/Begging for slumber"..."I'm not frantic/I can feel it coming/Violently shakes my body". Deep stuff, but it's relatively weak musically.

Come Back - And out of nowhere comes R&B Crooner Eddie. This song's even sadder than the last, though when you here the R&B strains, you almost think they're messing with you and having fun. But the lyrics ("I've been planning out all that I'd say to you/Since you slipped away, know that I still remain true/I've been wishing out the days/Please say, that if you hadn't of gone now/I wouldn't have lost you another way/From wherever you are...come back") say otherwise.

Inside Job - A nice, slow-burning song to end the album. Optimistic Eddie makes one of his first appearances here. "I used to try and kill love, it was the highest sin/Breathing insecurity out and in/Searching hope, I'm shown the way to run straight/Pursuing the greater way for all human light"..."Life comes from within your heart and desire". Honestly, it's not the best album closer they've had (though nothing will ever beat "Indifference" in that category), but it's good.

As you can see, I'm extremely, extremely high on the musical aspects of this album, particularly the harder songs...but if there's something lacking from this album in comparison to other PJ albums, it's that one lasting grip of emotion. It's definitely in the lyrics, but I don't know...my standards are REALLY high for Pearl Jam. Though this album takes on some pretty emotional topics, no one song emotionally matches the likes of "Love Boat Captain", "Thumbing My Way", "Indifference", etc., in my eyes. But that's an extremely nit-picky complaint. Fact is, Pearl Jam is driven and intense, and they really pushed themselves on this album. It's re-introduced them to popular radio, and it will likely open at the top of the charts. PJ has something to say, and they've opened themselves up to the public again.

This is a fantastic album, and like I said, it's continuing to grow on me. If I were to wait another week to write this, I'd probably say this is one of their two best albums. Currently (*MAJOR MAJOR MUSIC NERD ALERT*) I have it #4 behind Yield, Ten, and Riot Act.