Pearl Jam happens to be a band I generally really like, having even I think blasted out a refreshing eruption of straight-ahead raw energy on 2013’s Lightning Bolt, so I’m going to be as brief, or as SIDELONG, as it were, as I possibly can here. But unfortunately there’s no avoiding the fact that their latest offering is a mine field of mechanically rendered, uninspired bits of songs, plastered together with a commercially seeking left brain, whose sound leans too heavily on their original style, and which in general reek of cultural premeditation (trying to write a “certain kind of song” to fit a generic sociological niche, is what I mean). What’s really horrifying is that this strategy would have even been played out back in 1998, when Eddie Vedder at least had the guts to be a petulant little kid with unrealistic desires on “Wishlist.” Today, their lack of substance and artistic direction is just frightening, of which I was pertinently suspicious even right away when I heard that wet, soupy and arena-ready snare sound on “Who Ever Said,” as if this band is just assuming their spots on the Madison Square Garden stage without any wariness of what gets them there in the first place. By the way, I hate Pearl Jam for still not producing their own albums at this point, and ditching Brendan O’Brien was definitely not the answer, from the way it sounds.
So on the comically trite and clichéd opener “Who Ever Said,” we get the “obligatory humanistic fervor” song, on which Vedder repeats the phrase “Who ever said everything’s been said / Gave up on satisfaction” but wields an inexplicable forced anger, which I know is supposed to be like “grunge edginess” (about 29 years too late, as it were), but comes off more like the singer being mad at how lame the first song on his new album is. What, did he get the song in the U.S. mail, or something? Also good God am I sick of vocalists repeating the same phrase like eight times within a song: is it just me or was there a time when like ANYBODY listened to rock or rap, hence theoretically policing this sort of obvious creative fallacy?
Later on on “Alright,” the first stab at balladry and likely best song to this point just for its sidestepping of repugnant grunge miscellany, we get the “obligatory feel-good song” and “If your heart still beats free/ Keep it for yourself”, all over goopy, melodramatic cymbals and croons. Uck. Keep it, Vedder. If I want some emotional confidance in my lonely times I’m definitely not going to look to some lead singer casanova who’s sold out Alpine Valley for such cheap rhetoric.
And I didn’t think I’d be saying this so promptly after the moderate success of Lightning Bolt but this is crisis time for Pearl Jam. It’s fully time to hit the panic button. With all this calamity going on over the world, our society turned over by pandemic, people’s tolerance for B.S. is going to be lower than ever. And all over Gigaton, inexcusably, I find desultory stabs at hit singles and I find nauseating self-importance, never once getting the sense that in the studio the band has been unleashing any bona fide JAMS, reinventing who they are as a band and why they’re doing it in the first place. They’re going to need some side projects, a lineup change, he** at least some new INSTRUMENTATION, something to light a fire under their a**es and given their music some meaning, or they could go down as one of the biggest artistic meltdowns in rock history.