Now that the album is actually out legally, I’ve chosen to revise my review of Pearl Jam’s new album. Well, maybe not so much “revise” as “write more rambling crap in an effort to add more content to the site.” Updated ramblings appear in red italics. Enjoy this and, more importantly, the album.
vocals, guitar: Ed Vedder
guitars: Stone Gossard, Mike McCready
bass: Jeff Ament
drums: Matt Cameron
keyboards: Boom Gaspar
1. Life Wasted (3:54)
Fast, rockin’ opener. The chorus gets a little repetetive and “easy,” but I think this is the band’s way of working the listener into what’s to come. I love the wailing, rapid-fire guitar at the end.
This song went from a 9 (the leak version) to an F+ (don’t question my grading scale!). The last 15-20 seconds of the leak version built to a wailing, writhing beast of guitar and drums, closing the song out with a rapid-fire assault on the senses. So what did the album’s producer do? He FADES THE FREAKING SONG OUT JUST AS THIS SECTION STARTS! Unconscionable. It’s a huge letdown from the original version and reason enough to illegally download music. You don’t know what you’re missing sometimes. Yeah, this is probably a gross overreaction on my part, but you already know I have an unhealthy obsession with the band.
2. World Wide Suicide (3:29)
Obvious lyrics about war and its effects upon the world; all of us heading toward a “worldwide suicide.” This is the first single off the record, and deservedly so. It’s a hard rocker and sounds like it’d be right at home on Vitalogy. I think songs like WWS are what the band was trying to achieve on Riot Act but didn’t quite succeed.
I’m firm in my belief that WWS will bring the band more mainstream success in terms of album sales and overall attention this time around. It’s a radio-ready rocker meant for widespread consumption; which is all the more appropriate considering its’ subject matter. WWS is better than 98% of the garbage on the radio and MTV today, so maybe all these teenage idiots will get some exposure to real music if we’re lucky.
3. Comatose (2:19)
Very raw, very punk. Ed’s weakened voice is the most apparent here, but also the most appropriate. It sounds ragged, raw, and rasping–like he’s on the edge of losing his voice. It’s perfect for Comatose.
Much, much cleaner than the leak version, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. This is a down and dirty, guitar-driven rager, and I think the muddied up sound on the leak puts it in a better musical context than a cleaned-up, shiny studio production does.
I have no idea what “musical context” means, but it sounded good.
4. Severed Hand (4:30)
This is probably my favorite track on the album so far. Great Stone riff driving this song about what I perceive to be a soldier going off to war for the first time and getting in a bit over his head. The first time I heard this, Mike McCready’s solo about 2/3 of the way through the song had me flipping out while driving down the road. I’m sure I looked like a nutjob. This has to be a lock for the 2nd single.
This is still the standout track for me, made even better by the cleaned-up album version. A colleague of mine had the following reaction to the above-mentioned McCready solo:
And then his face melted! I can’t friggin’ wait to hear this live.
5. Marker In The Sand (4:23)
Blues-tinged rocker that works itself into some lulls throughout. Starts off with a nice, groovy intro, but there are some sections I’m not enamored with, starting right after the intro. The last minute or so doesn’t stand out until Boom’s organ kicks in. I could see this as being much better live, possibly with a different arrangement, but the chorus is great.
I’ve come around on Marker and I think it’s now one of the better tracks on the record. The chorus has become my least favorite part of the song; that opening groove is great and serves as a great change-of-pace after the opening four-song salvo.
6. Parachutes (3:36)
The Beatles comparisons will be fast and frequent upon hearing this, and appropriately so. The most apt tag I could put on this would be a “lullaby.” You could easily put your kids to sleep with it while you sit downstairs in your den smoking a cigar and enjoying a brandy. Alright, that made no sense, but I’m trying to say this is a very low-key song.
Still a nice, little lullaby but a much more drastic change in pacing than Marker. I like the song a lot but I’ve got be in the right mood/location to get into it. Speeding down the road in shades with the top down doesn’t work as well with a lullaby blasting out of the speakers. Parachutes probably won’t get a lot of play out of my car’s CD player this summer.
7. Unemployable (3:04)
The first time I heard Unemployable, I went from “what the F is this?” to “hmm…” to “YEAH!” in the space of about 30 seconds. It’s about a guy who just got laid off from his job and the emotional and physical toll that can take on a man. If you want to view it in a broader sense, this is the story of one of the faceless statistics that have been affected by Bush’s economic policies. I’m not saying I agree with the political leanings of this, but it works very well in that context. The music itself seems reminiscent of an almost Fleetwood Mac/Rolling Stones/Police track from the early ’80’s.
Not much more to add.
8. Big Wave (2:58)
An obvious cousin to Gremmie Out of Control (found on Lost Dogs), this is another riff-happy surf song, though it’s got some evolutionary influences. It’s a good, upbeat change of pace for the album with some nice solos from McCready. There’s not a whole lot more to say about it than that.
Nice riffs here, but I don’t think Big Wave holds up well to rest of the songs on the album. This has B-side written all over it. It should be a pretty good rocker during concerts, though.
9. Gone (4:08)
The demo version from the X-mas single, with just Ed and his guitar, was a stark, almost-haunting rendition that packed a real emotional punch. That same simplicity is evident in the full band version, but it’s much fuller-sounding and seems like the kind of song you’d hear over the closing credits of a movie. I don’t think it packs the same, stark chord the demo did, but that isn’t to say that the full band version is any less great. Beautiful.
I like the X-mas demo more and more each time I hear this album version. It’s not bad by any stretch of the imagination, but the song seems a bit more “meandering” here. The simplicity of just Ed and his guitar works a lot better for the song.
10. Wasted Reprise (0:59)
Just Boom and Ed on this one, a reprise of the album opener. Very strange-sounding in a Pearl Jam context. It feels like I’m in church and Vedder suddenly made his way in front of the altar and started singing. This’ll take some getting used to.
It provides a nice breather before the last chapter of the album, but it’s not my favorite “experimental/short/ditty” entry into Pearl Jam’s album history (I refer to songs like Aye Davanita, Pry, to, Soon Forget, Arc, [The Color Red], etc.).
11. Army Reserve (3:45)
The beginning sounds almost (I stress almost) like Coldplay. That gives way to a low-key rocker with a bluesy feel at times. Great bassline by Jeff Ament. High, wailing guitar from McCready. This is one of the standout tracks. Ed sounds almost strangled at times, but again, it’s all very approriate to the song and subject matter (about the impact a man’s going off to war has on his family).
#2 on my favorites list. I keep trying to come up with adjectives to adequately describe my reasons for that, but my always-impressive vocabulary is failing me. I’ll try this: soulful, anguished rock. Or are those adverbs?
12. Come Back (5:29)
Very retro-sounding. I read someone make an Elvis comparison while listening to this, and I couldn’t agree more. Lots of organ and real basic guitar and drum work here. It really soars at the end, with some wailing guitars and Vedder raising his voice an octave. Very cool.
Lots of The King here. I’m gonna blatantly plagiarize someone else’s thoughts on the song that I read and say that the last section of the song (the wailing guitars and soaring vocals) “validates” everything that comes before it, which is basically a roundabout way of saying that the song doesn’t necessarily do it for me until that last part. But when those “oo-oo-oo-ooohs” come, it feels like it’s all built up to this and Come Back works better as a whole because of that build-up. This could end up being a new contender for show-closer on the tour this year.
13. Inside Job (7:08)
Two minutes of subdued instrumental before a soft-spoken Vedder comes in. Sounds a little–dare I say it?–Pink Floyd-ish. Lots of sustain on the guitar; nice piano accents throughout. As the song picks up, I hesitate to say this, but it sounds very “country” at specific points. I hate country, but I don’t mean that as a dig on it; it all feels very appropriate. There’s a nice, little outro that may be part of this song or just another hidden track.
Inside Job serves as the perfect response to the cynicism and negative outlook on life that the album seems to exhibit (when you start with a title like “Life Wasted,” that seems readily apparent). Despite all the horror and despair inherent in our world (whether seen through the context of war or losing your job or losing a father or losing your faith), there is still reason to go on–to be one of those individuals who doesn’t accept that the world’s gone to shit and there’s nothing to be done. You can’t necessarily look to others to accomplish this for you, you’ve gotta look within yourself and renew your faith in the world in your own way–it’s an “inside job.” Eh? Eeeeeh? Get it?
As a whole, I think the album is great, but I think Ed’s voice is noticeably weaker than in years past. That being said, I liken his performance here to an aging pitcher. He may not be able to bring the “high heat,” but he can get it done just as well with a different approach–a nasty curve, if you will. This album is also different from anything the band has done before, but at the same time, it feels like a natural evolution of everything that’s come before. I’m no music expert, but I can see why this album took so long to make. They’ve really worked on making each song consist of sound guitar work and vocals. It’s almost indescribable at times, trying to put my reaction to this into words. I need more time and a few live performances of these before I can come to a conclusion as to where this ranks among the seven other albums.
I’ll be interested to see how the mainstream music populace will react to this. World Wide Suicide is already a radio and commercial hit, so that should at least get some people turning their attention to this. It’s definitely more radio-friendly than 2002’s Riot Act, and normally I’d mean that as an insult based on what’s on MTV these days, but I think this is radio-friendly because it’s just so damn good. The band has aged well. May 9th in Toronto can’t get here soon enough.
Reviews of the new album have been pouring in (here’s a good one from Jeff Miers of The Buffalo News), and I’d say they’re about 85% positive at this point, confirming my feeling that this is going to be a big hit for the band. They’ve done more media for this than they have for the last four albums combined, and I think that’s going to result in a chart-topper (Tool’s new album notwithstanding). Regardless of all that, they hit the road next Tuesday in Toronto and I’ll have a full report on the festivities. Like I said, it can’t get here soon enough.