Self-titled albums are a funny thing…
There’s always something self-indulgent about them as they implicitly claim to be so awesome that they don’t even require a unique name. It’s like they want us to know that they stand out and they alone can give an accurate depiction of what the band in question is all about.
A bold statement which only few self-titled albums have managed to live up to.
So for Pearl Jam to not only release an eponymous album as their EIGHTH album could have meant one of two things: either this album was an attempt at redefining themselves entirely or bringing back some kind of lost mojo from their glory days.
Also known as ‘The Avocado Album’ thanks to its rather minimalist cover, this… Pearl Jam opens with one of their singles, “Life Wasted”, an energetic tune packed full of simple but effective The Who-style riffs. The chorus breaks the rhythm a little bit by being slower but something punchier would have probably made it too predictable so it overall works fine. The single “World Wide Suicide” follows and sees Eddie Vedder scream his way through a chorus Iggy Pop or AC/DC would have been perfect for. It’s a bit of a chaotic tune as it constantly goes completely different places so it doesn’t really have much shape. Still a good listen, though.
My personal favourite, “Comatose”, is next: a punky track which kicks butt pretty much non-stop. Its straight-forward riffs are fast and certainly call for a lot of frantic head shaking. To give you a general idea, if The Hives have a favourite Pearl Jam song, this is probably it. Great guitar solos, completely eclectic, you don’t see Pearl Jam go this full-on very often but when they do, it’s just tons of fun.
Next up is “Severed Hand” and, ironically, it’s nowhere near as dark as the title suggests. A cool little build-up leads us to Vedder taking on lower vocal tones over more really good, simple riffs. Unfortunately, the song itself isn’t quite as memorable as others on the album but, like “World Wide Suicide”, it just about pulls it off by being rich enough to make it enjoyable, plus the more melodic part, in the song’s second half, is actually very well done.
“Marker In The Sand” follows a likably rocky intro with a surprisingly soft and melodic chorus, which is totally worth it as it perfectly showcases how good the band can be at both faster and slower, more poetic tracks. As much as you enjoy the rockier parts of the track, you still wait impatiently for that pretty chorus. It’s easily one of the best songs of the album. “Parachutes” is more chilled out and lighter all the way through and it actually almost feels like a country song. It offers some welcome variety to the album.
“Unemployable”, apart from the great guitar work, doesn’t stand out too much, unfortunately. It’s an enjoyable listen with some cool moments, though. As for “Big Wave”, it’s another screamy, grungy tune and it’s very entertaining, showing once again that Stone Gossard and Mike McCready are on top form here, genuinely enjoying themselves in this album. Not bad at all.
“Gone” was another single, which is odd seeing as it’s a darker, slow song you can’t exactly put on at parties. It does pick up in waves here and there, though. It’s also the type of song that Vedder pulls off so freakin’ well that you don’t care if it’s slower or not, as he does fab vocal work throughout. “Wasted Reprise” isn’t completely a “waste” but it is little more than an organ-led transitional reprise to “Life Wasted”.
“Army Reserve” is an odd one. It’s not a bad track but it drags on a bit despite being of normal length. Maybe that’s because it’s not too catchy or memorable, I don’t know. It definitely needed a bit more life to it. “Come Back” is a more emotional ballad: simple yet heartfelt. Appropriately bluesy with a touch of soul.
And finally we end with “Inside Job” which opens with a long intro led by acoustic guitars and piano as voice and other instruments kick in little by little. It’s a dream-like tune which sucks you into it and never lets go. It’s a long one but it feels like a short 6 minutes seeing as it’s all atmosphere and it’s constantly changing and evolving.
Perfect track to end on.
So what do I make of Pearl Jam’s “Pearl Jam”, quite probably the Pearl Jammiest album you’ll ever own?
If the experiment was to make an album which perfectly redefines what the band is all about and what it does best then mission accomplished. Pearl Jam is a really good effort full of fast-paced riffs and loads of energy in its first half and more mature, slower yet engaging tunes in its second half. You’ve got the band doing punk, country, blues, soul, grunge, ballads yet never feeling disingenuous and unlike, well, Pearl Jam.
They stay true to themselves throughout and provide an album that’s well worth hearing, especially if you’re a fan.
I give it 4 Happy Cobains out of 5.