This is Pearl Jam’s worst record. I don’t see how there could be any debate about it. That’s not to say “Riot Act” is entirely worthless, but it falls short of the band’s standards, for sure.
Let’s start positive, though: “I Am Mine” is a keeper, certainly, as is “Save You,” one of the hardest-rocking songs the band’s ever done. “Can’t Keep” is an effective, if off-kilter, opener, while the experimentation on “You Are” holds promise (if only the lyrics were a bit better). “All or None” is a devastating blues number, and who knew “Arc” would become one of my all-time favorite Pearl Jam songs thanks to Eddie Vedder’s solo concerts from a couple years ago.
The rest, though … yikes. I get that Vedder & Co. were depressed over George W. Bush's presidency, but come on … live a little! “Riot Act” sounds like they all want to just up and kill themselves. Eddie sings in a cotton-mouthed mush for much of the CD, and his lyrics are way too wordy—“Love Boat Captain” and “Thumbing My Way” are just two of the worst examples.
Perhaps, though, he was merely trying to cover for everyone's lack of musical inspiration. “Get Right” and “Cropduster” are easily two of the band’s most boring tracks, while “Green Disease,” “1/2 Full,” and “Bu$hleaguer” are ripoffs of their own previous work (“MFC,” “Red Mosquito,” and “Push Me, Pull Me,” respectively, if you’re wondering). At one point I thought the mediocre “Ghost” was a five-star song simply because it shows a pulse.
As relatively bad as it is compared to the rest of Pearl Jam’s work, “Riot Act” remains listenable because this band is just that good. I return to it now and then for a change of pace, if nothing else. But out of 15 tracks, there’s only one on this record I couldn’t live without.
Favorite Track: “I Am Mine”
Least Favorite Track: Too many to choose