'So long; this time I'm gone'
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK editor
My Christmas has arrived.Fighting temptation once again to download anything early, the release of Pearl Jam's new album, Pearl Jam, was eagerly anticipated, to say the least. To say the most, I’m downright giddy.
Whenever Pearl Jam releases a new album, I turn back into a 15-year-old freshman in high school. Watching them live is just blissful, but a new album release is a special moment for me. As a ritual, I throw on my headphones, seclude myself, and take in each tune intently. I then repeat those actions two or three times. Seeing as how I got my exclusive download around 1:15 in the a.m. (part of Pearl Jam’s pre-order deal to ensure I had it as soon as possible), my mp3 player has been working overtime, as have my fingers, as I write this after the third and during my fourth listen.
What follows is the very biased opinion from a very biased fan, track for track. I can’t in good faith post this as a proper album review, because Pearl Jam is the only band I can’t separate myself from and be truly objective, at least in fairness to every other artist featured in this publication.
So until a proper review surfaces, here are the raw thoughts of a hopeless fan.
1. Life Wasted
The opening track, "Life Wasted" serves a very definite purpose — let everyone know that Pearl Jam is not messing around anymore. It’s been too long since the last album, the country is far too messed up for their liking, and they have quite a bit of aggression to get out of their systems. Big, churning riffs fuel this one, and some vintage Eddie Vedder screams pepper the song. And they’re far from the only big riffs and loud screams to be found on the Avocado album. Rock and roll is here to stay.
2. World Wide Suicide
A straight-ahead rocker, the debut single did its job of turning the hype for this record into full gear. Trademark in its blending of lyrics surveying the world while grinding to keep the mood jamming. And any sly jab in the face of Gee Dubya is always welcome, as far as I’m concerned.
On the brief 2004 tour, the band took to playing Dead Kennedy’s "Bleed for Me," a spit-filled, screaming, raging number, and that influence can be heard here. Screaming lines like "Consider me an ob-JECT / Put me in a vaccum / Free of all conditions / Free of air and friction" set this one on fire. Now the most intense punk song in their catalog, and the best screamer in this set. This will sound great next to "Blood" in their shows.
4. Severed Hand
Epic and constantly shifting, one of the songs the band has been trying to write for years, and they nail it here. Equal parts lifting, introspective, and gear-turning, they all meld to make what could essentially serve as the band’s mission statement.
5. Marker In The Sand
The big rock sound carries here, but the middle verses take a melodic step back from the punishment served up by the album’s front four. The guitars shift, while Vedder’s lyrics slither between the music, which all fall back on Stone Gossard’s guitars. This track has the potential to grow into a mighty live song.
I can’t confirm it, but I’m almost positive this song was born from Ed’s ukulele. A gentle, breezy acoustic song that I have a feeling some won’t like. I do, though, and it provides a much-needed breather after five burning tracks. Interestingly, this track is reminiscent of one of Queen’s lighter songs.
Matt Cameron’s backwards guitar riff drives this one, and Vedder’s "Oh oh OH oh / I’m scared alive" is very distinctive. Very cool guitar pattern on the out-verse into the refrain.
8. Big Wave
The gut-crunching rock returns, officially making this the most rocking Pearl Jam record since Vitalogy. Perhaps a nod to Soundgarden’s "My Wave," or just a tribute to Vedder’s favorite pastime, surfing? Either way, this is another crowd-pleaser. Mr. Mike McCready shines again here.
This sounds more like the work that the band had evolved into before this album. Introspective, moody lyrics over a dark minor key with a sense of the exploratory. This first surfaced on the B-side of the 2004 fan club single, a hotel demo written in Atlantic City. And the sly reference to Pete Townshend’s "Let’s See Action" is not to go unnoticed. It’s very dark while still hopeful, and it’s quite possibly the most powerful song here.
10. Wasted Reprise
A obvious nod to Neil Young. Young has a tendency to throw in a brief, organ-driven reprise of an opening song on his albums, as he did, for example, with "Fallen Angel" on Mirrorball; coincidentally (or not?), he recorded that album with these guys. This is a slowed-down, 45-second look at "Life Wasted."
11. Army Reserve
The song reaffirms the new direction the band is taking on this album; Almost U2-like (without the pretentiousness), the song swirls around altering arrangements with an emphasis on the Who-like chorus, "I’m not blind / I can see it coming." The guitars recall McCready’s work on the Lost Dogs track "Brother."
12. Come Back
This song features a first for the band — an obvious nod to the soul of Otis Redding and Booker T. & the MGs. I’m actually surprised that Vedder hadn’t sung a song like this before in his career. It all slowly builds up to the cathartic McCready solo. A very sweet song with feeling, and it sets the stage perfectly for …
13. Inside Job
Pearl Jam, as a band, have worked very, very hard not to be backed into any corner or label, be it classic rock or grunge, and here they make sure to reaffirm that they’re not a one-dimensional band. Dark and bizarre for the first three minutes, the track breaks through midway for a more explosive sound, with the guitars riffing under Vedder’s now-soaring voice. McCready, specifically, takes a very unique tone here, one that he’s never displayed before. "Inside Job" closes the album on an epic, burning note, leaving the listener eager to flip the vinyl, catch the next show or fidget in anticipation of the next album.
Or, if you’re like me, all three. And on that note, I’ll see you all in Albany, the third night of the 2006 tour, in the company of the mighty Bruce Hutchings. If you’re wondering which one I am, I’ll be the guy in the beat-up Red Sox hat screaming every damn word of every damn song along with the band and 14,000 fellow maniacs. Bruce could be wearing a Sox hat, too, but he has a beard, so that can't be me.
Most importantly, though, this new album feels great because new music by Pearl Jam feels great. It helps me move along in my life, it helps me mark time, and it always feels like home.
God, it feels good to be home.
May 6, 2006