Pearl Jam

[J-Records]

First taste of this avocado is served in a severely forthright fashion – top half of a globe swirled in flames, centered on America – with the Administration-angst ridden single “World Wide Suicide.” Regardless of what avocados have to do with politics, Pearl Jam’s eighth studio effort kicks off sonically in gasoline-doused, bonfire madness. It’s a good six tracks deep before Eddie and Co. unplug and smother the flames with a sappy throw-away called “Parachutes.” At this point you get a chance to see the titles of its predecessors – “Life Wasted,” “Comatose,” “Severed Hand” – and realize why the album was cut nameless.

Most people, even the music conscious, almost forget PJ kept making albums after Yield, or even Vitalogy. Binaural? Riot Act? Solid albums, but the energy of Ten and Vs. came in sputters, at best. Pearl Jam, the band’s first in four years, is the return to the grunge-era chaos that spawned them. Vedder’s vocals are noticeably beaten, but only in the way a 41-year-old rock-star’s should be – tinged with a fine and wise rasp, guttural and raw as ever. “Comatose” alone sounds like it should’ve shredded the singer’s throat all the way to the emergency room. Stone Gossard flanges into the spotlight on the ethereal “Army Reserve.” Matt Cameron taps into his “Spoonman” days, all raucously precise as to keep in step with the ultimate fuel to this social commentary’s fire, lead guitarist McCready whipping through verse after verse of sandpaper-abrasive power chords and shoulder-jerk fills.

When the flames do start to flutter for good, the record fades away in eerie, post-battlefield destruction. “Gone” and “Inside Job” are finely crafted somber ballads with full-band hopeless rock endings; Eddie wailing, “If nothing is everything then I will have it all.” But the charge to this sorrow, if anything, shows us that there’s hope yet. Because on the other side of all this hell-fire rock and roll, lays the ashes of our crumbling political situation and the sense that everything can be learned from nothing.

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