I’ve written so much about this album, is there anything left to say? Oh, sure!
It holds up quite well four years later, and includes some of the band’s best songs. If the Album Otherwise Known as Avocado has faded a touch for me, it’s purely a lyrical dissonance as this and “Riot Act” mark the band’s two most political missives.
The difference between the two is obviously the music. “Pearl Jam” was an album Pearl Jam was desperate to make, whether they knew it or not. They’d been wandering off the reservation for years, searching for ways to challenge themselves and their audience. After a four-year break between official records, the band came back with a rock-and-roll manifesto from the unmistakable opening riff of “Life Wasted” all the way through the closing chords of “Inside Job.”
“Life Wasted” is my favorite song on this CD, and one of my 10 favorites in the band’s entire catalog. It offers everything you could possibly want in a Pearl Jam song: a classic Stone Gossard riff, one of Eddie Vedder’s most uplifting efforts as a lyricist, and a scorching Mike McCready solo that is inexplicably faded out at the end of the track. Live, this song soars.
My opinion on the rest of the album hasn’t changed much, either—if anything, I like several of these songs even more now than I did back when I first heard them. The only one that’s slipped a bit is the mishmash of “Marker in the Sand”; is there a phrase or two I’d like to change in “Inside Job” and “Gone”? Sure. But those are more than compensated by my increased esteem for “Parachutes,” “World Wide Suicide” (another Pearl Jam all-timer, despite my objections to its message), and even “Army Reserve.”
On the other hand, “Comatose” is still one of the band’s most face-crushing tracks, the steady groove and double-tracked vocals of “Unemployable” continue to appeal, “Come Back” remains as touching as ever, and the final minute of “Severed Hand” is one of my favorite all-out guitar extravaganzas in Pearl Jam history.
This album hit the reset button on the band’s career, as five men figured out how to be relevant middle-aged rock stars without letting the message overwhelm the music. It remains one of my favorite Pearl Jam CDs.
Favorite Track: “Life Wasted”
Least Favorite Track: “Marker in the Sand”