A year ago, I posted my review of Pearl Jam’s self-titled eighth studio album, otherwise known as “Avocado.” At the end of that opus, I asked a handful of questions that could only be answered with time. Now that a year has passed, I thought I’d go back and respond to those ruminations, because my love for this album has not diminished at all with time.
I’ll take the unanswered questions in reverse order:
1. “Will it fade into mediocrity with time like ‘Riot Act’”?
This is probably the easiest. In a word: No. A year later, I can still put this CD in at any time and enjoy it almost as much as the first time I heard it. Some of the songs may have dimmed slightly now that the flush of new Pearl Jam is gone (I’m thinking specifically of “Comatose” and “Marker in the Sand”), but others gained strength (“Parachutes” and “Worldwide Suicide”) with repeated listens and context. Overall “Avocado” stands firm on the quality of its songs. “Riot Act” does not.
2. “Will its uptempo rockers still get the blood flowing like ‘Vitalogy’”?
Absolutely. As a group, the opening stretch from “Life Wasted” to “Marker” remains as good a five-song run as the band has ever recorded. My recommendation: Go find a live version of “Life Wasted” that includes Mike McCready’s scorching song-closing solo that was criminally faded out on the album.
3. “Will its more experimental moments still sound good a decade later like ‘No Code’”?
Okay, so this one technically is still unanswerable, but I’ll refer again to the lilting “Parachutes” as a song that’s improved in the interim, while the intro to “Severed Hand,” the multi-tracked vocal on “Unemployable,” and the structure of “Inside Job” remain as thrilling as ever.
4. “Will it prove to have the perfect trifecta of ‘Given to Fly,’ ‘Do the Evolution,’ and ‘In Hiding’ like ‘Yield’”?
Unfortunately, no. Those three songs really are perfection in triplicate and remain in my “Pearl Jam Top 10.” “Life Wasted” is the only song off “Avocado” to crack that difficult list, but were I to extend the criteria to, say, 25, “Pearl Jam” would be well represented—“Severed Hand,” “Unemployable,” “Come Back,” and “Inside Job” would all make the cut. Which leads to my final question …
5. “Where will ‘Pearl Jam’ rank in the group’s deep catalog”?
This is certainly the toughest question, largely because ranking Pearl Jam’s albums is nearly impossible (other than “Riot Act” landing soundly at the bottom of the list) due to my emotional connection to each of them. As a whole, though, I now rank “Avocado” at the top of the list. On a track-by-track basis it may not have as many “classics” as previous efforts, but top to bottom, front to back, it's stronger and flows better than any other record in the repertoire. There are no weak entries (even “Army Reserve” has grown on me somewhat), and the collective feeling of satisfaction from this album is unmatched by any of the other seven. When I need a burst of energy to meet a deadline, or company on a road trip, or just 50 minutes of great music, “Avocado” fits the bill. If Pearl Jam never recorded another album, this record would be a fitting and fulfilling conclusion to a fantastic career.
So, that said, it’s time to do the impossible: Here’s how PJ’s albums shake out on my list, along with my 10 favorite songs:
SONGS (in no particular order, and subject to change at any time)
Do the Evolution
Given to Fly
Hard to Imagine
THE NEXT 15
In My Tree
Not For You
Off He Goes
Spin the Black Circle