Behold, Pearl Jam! Mighty, embattled purveyors of enduring Major League Rock, quixotic political crusades, and crap album art. Released on the band's own imprint, Pearl Jam features cover art that's hellaciously ambiguous, poorly executed, and just plain dumb. So dumb, in fact, that the clip-art avocado adorning the package is kinda ingenious; so low-budgetly meaningless that it deflects attention from the imagery and onto the music itself. Or it puts off critics and renders the whole exercise irrelevant. Sort of what the band's continually dodgy public persona has done for the past 15 years.
Musically, though, the verdict is clear Pearl Jam refuses to settle into self-congratulatory old age. Somehow, Pearl Jam sounds just as brazen, conflicted, and ready-to-be-clichéd classic rock as earlier work like Vitology. While Eddie Vedder dives further into introspection and alienation with his lyrics, the band's accompaniment percolates with some of its most vigorous, raw tunefulness in years. The minor-key dirges that weighted PJ's last few outings are here ("Army Reserve," "Marker in the Sand") and, unshackled by overbearing political themes, emerge as verified claims to importance. The punk-powered rave-ups are here ("Life Wasted," "World Wide Suicide") and, given Vedder's grizzled optimism, come off as life-damaged rallying cries to the rock 'n' roll faithful. And the downtempo, melodic numbers are here too ("Parachutes," "Gone"), yearning and truthful, balanced by Vedder's still-too-earnest-for-spite vocals and songwriting contributed by every member of the band. In fact, Pearl Jam is as much a group effort as Ten was back in 1991. Whether that will gain the band new fans (or whether there are any new fans to gain, period) doesn't matter. To those who still care about rock, it will certainly win the band greater respect.
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