It’s official: Pearl Jam’s new album, the band’s eighth, comes out May 2, with a tour to follow (dates will be announced soon).
This is an important release in Pearl Jam’s career. It’s been more than eight years since the band’s last great album, 1998’s “Yield,” and we’ve had more than three years to realize the last effort, 2002’s “Riot Act,” simply doesn’t hold up against the rest of the catalog. PJ continue to cement their concert legacy (for proof, see my October 2005 review of a transcendent night in Philly), but it’s time to prove they can once again capture that energy in the studio. After such a long wait, if this one, too, is subpar (by Pearl Jam standards, mind you) … well, I’m not going to entertain those ramifications quite yet. Let’s allow the album to speak for itself, without prejudice.
The record is self-titled, which I take as a good sign. As the band’s first official studio release for new label J Records, I hope simply using “Pearl Jam” is symbolic for a rebirth of sorts—both a return to form and (hopefully) a giant step forward into a new era.
Speaking of rebirth, the band’s official site, www.pearljam.com, re-launched this week after a much-needed redesign and upgrade. It’s outstanding—finally the Internet domain diehard fans have been waiting for. The unquestionable highlight is the “Songs” section, which not only lists everything the band has ever played (in the studio or in concert, including covers), but includes (most) lyrics and every time a song was performed live. It’s a gigantic down-the-rabbit-hole database: You can list them alphabetically, when they debuted, or by frequency (“Even Flow” leads the pack by far and away at 521 incarnations). All of the setlists (on first glance, it looks like every single show the band’s every played!) are fully linked, so clicking on one song takes you to its official page, which then provides another jumping-off point to some other realm of PJ’s history.
And while you’re surfing PJ’s little corner of the web, I encourage all fans to visit www.theskyiscrape.com, the best unofficial Pearl Jam site. In honor of March Madness, it is hosting a variation of the Big Dance, only with Pearl Jam songs. Every single one (originals only) has been seeded and broken into eight brackets, with voting for a different “region” each day until there’s an overall winner (“Immortality” and “I Got Shit” are the two previous champions). It’s nerdy, I know, but I think it’ll be pretty fun, too. My money’s on “Corduroy,” even though my personal fave is “Do the Evolution.”
If nothing else, it’s a way to kill a few long weeks of new album wait time.