So there has been a lot of marketing going on calling this PJ's "comeback album" which I suppose in some respects is somewhat accurate but not completely. In the early days of Pearl Jam, most of the songs were built on sheer aggression and sing along anthems. My personal favorite of the early years was the album Vs., which to me was raw savage music played by 5 guys thinking they could change the world. Songs like "Go", "Animal", "Leash", "Rearviewmirror", "Blood" were brutal in its lyrics as well as its sonic attack. Loud distorted guitars, big drums, tons of screaming, and lyrics about a teenage wasteland. When it came out I was around 16 or so, and it became a fixture in my tapedeck (in the sweet Buick Skyhawk I bought for $1,000)
Fast forward to 2006, and their 8th studio album rolls out. I tried to listen to the album objectively without thinking about past successes and failures with their music over the last 15 years. And tried to approach the album as its own entity, not the 8th album by one of my favorite bands. The research was conducted over 2 weeks of listening to the album about 25 times or so. Right out of the box, I really liked the first song called "Life Wasted". To me that song seems like something from the old aggressive days of Vs., but without some of the rawness. A lot of the aggression of the album seems to center on the war on terror and its affect on the American pysche and really runs as an undercurrent throughout the album, and more obviously on tracks like "World Wide Suicide" and "Army Reserve". After the first couple of songs the next few are rather pedestrian. Yeah they are loud and crunchy, but ulitmately pretty boring. I really don't like the song "Comatose" and strikes me as odd its the 3rd song on the album. It was deleted from the Ipod. The fifth song "Marker in the Sand" sounds a little sing-songy, but still ultimately enjoyable. The next song "Parachutes" is pretty wretched in my opinion, though a lot of reviewers like it, just not me. The 2nd best song on the album rolls around with "Unemployable" and wouldn't be shocked if it was the next single after "Life Wasted" and "World Wide Suicide". Great song, great lyrics. The back end of the album starts to sound like filler except for "Army Reserve" and "Inside Job" , both excellent songs.
So is this a return for Pearl Jam? Um…I'd say not really. They don't have the raw, tension they had at the beginning of the 90's, but then again you can't do that forever. They are a band that still is putting out quality material without relying on the same old formula time in and time out and I've always respected them for doing that. So for "Pearl Jam" I'd have to rate the album a solid "B minus".
If you are wondering how the rest of the PJ catalog rates for me here ya go:
1) Ten – A minus (really good debut, don't like the production as much as Vs)
2) Vs – A plus (great songs throughout and has a raw sound to it)
3) Vitalogy – B plus (some great stuff (ie "Last Exit","Whipping", "Betterman", etc) and then some weird crap (ie "Bugs" and "Hey Foxymophandlemama, That's Me")
4) No Code – B minus (I've come to enjoy this album over time, especially "Hail,Hail" and "Red Mosquito")
5) Yield – C plus ("MFC", "Do the Evolution" rock, the rest is kinda boring)
6) Binaural – C (some quality with "Breakerfall", "Insignificance", "Sleight of Hand")
7) Riot Act – D (couldn't tell you the names of most of the songs cuz they never made much of an impact)