Well, it’s finally leaked. Pearl Jam’s new album, that is. The leaked tracks are all less than CD quality, so this is simply a provisional review until I get the actual album in my hands and have had a chance to endlessly dissect it a thousand times over, but here are my intial track-by-track thoughts:
vocals, guitar: Ed Vedder
guitars: Stone Gossard, Mike McCready
bass: Jeff Ament
drums: Matt Cameron
keyboards: Boom Gaspar
1. Life Wasted (4:12)
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.
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.
3. Comatose (2:35)
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.
4. Severed Hand (4:28)
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.
5. Marker In The Sand (4:28)
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 of, 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.
6. Parachutes (3:42)
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.
7. Unemployable (3:06)
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.
8. Big Wave (3:02)
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.
9. Gone (4:14)
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.
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.
11. Army Reserve (3:49)
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).
12. Come Back (5:31)
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.
13. Inside Job (7:10)
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.
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.