Pearl Jam is the group’s most aggressive album since Vitalogy, and it’s their most political as well, but it only warms up when it strays away from hard rock into more relaxed territory. The sound is thinner and more abrasive than usual, but it doesn’t necessarily suit a mature band who thrive on exploring interesting guitar textures and chord sequences.
Pearl Jam starts with a series of rockers that are self-consciously fast and abrasive, and it’s not until the fifth track that things loosen up and get more interesting. The Mike McCready written ‘Marker In The Sand’ opens out into a warm, jangly chorus (“So unforgiving/Yet needing forgiveness first”) that signals a change in pace. Matt Cameron, who came up with some of the best material on Riot Act, only gets one writing credit here, the hooky ‘Unemployable’, while an unusually prolific McCready is responsible for a lot of the record’s better songs. ‘Parachutes’ has a nice folk vibe, while ‘Gone’ is the most commercially viable song here with a big anthemic chorus and ‘Army Reserve’ bounces along on a nice, spiky guitar rhythm. Eddie Vedder emotes his way through the agreeably melodramatic ‘Come Back’, while the closing ‘Inside Job’ builds from gentle acoustic lament over its seven minutes.
It’s merely another late period Pearl Jam album that’s superior to Binaural, but inferior to Riot Act, and there’s a limit to how many late period Pearl Jam albums I want cluttering my life, but if you’re a fan there’s more than enough to like here.