Rhythm & Views

Pearl Jam

Is it safe to come out now? Being a Pearl Jam fan has never been easy--particularly for about a decade now--but it's getting (slightly) easier. Arguably, the band's last solid album was 1996's No Code; the albums in that disappointing gulf in between had an increasing dearth of bright spots. Inconsistency had become troublingly, well, consistent.

With Pearl Jam, the band recaptures the spark that ignited a generation some 15 years ago with Eddie Vedder--who has returned his vocals to their gruff glory--and company playing like men possessed by their former selves. This album proves the group has always had more in common with Springsteen and The Who than any flannel-clad musical fad of yesteryear.

Over the 13 tracks of this eponymous powder keg, Pearl Jam muster enough kinetic energy, exuberant charm and political relevancy to make their youthful successors appear catatonic or apathetic. They're not reinventing the wheel, just greatly improving upon it for those of us who still care.

High spots include the spiraling, terse structure of "Parachutes," the one-two knockout of raging guitars and throbbing rhythm that are "Life Wasted" and "World Wide Suicide," and the ringing working-class anthem "Unemployable."

Taking a recent page from their forefathers (Springsteen and Young), the group dedicates the heft of Pearl Jam to politics both foreign and domestic, but looser moments like the spiky "Big Wave" prove the album was likely constructed with equal parts excitement and urgency. They're still alive; deal with it.