Friday, May 12, 2006

Pearl Jam returns sounding

Pearl Jam picure

'Pearl Jam' (J), 3 stars -- After a four-year absence and a general withdrawal from the rock-star business, Pearl Jam returns sounding renewed and refreshed.

It helps that there's a war going on. The Seattle band has always drawn inspiration from the turbulence in the air, and its re-emergence at a time of heated debate seems like perfect timing.

Considering the unambiguous Bush-bashing in which Eddie Vedder has indulged in the past, the commentary on 'Pearl Jam' is surprisingly restrained but powerful. Backed by raging guitars on 'World Wide Suicide,' he laments a fallen soldier and lashes out: 'a handsome face that the president took for granted / Writing checks that others pay.'

'Army Reserve' depicts a family deprived by war of its husband and father, and in 'Marker in the Sand' Vedder calls out to the God whose support is claimed by both sides. 'A sickness is coming over me,' he intones, surveying the psychic damage in personal terms rather than political polemic.

The album addresses other areas of discontent as well, as its initial hard-rocking attack eases into a series of affecting ballads. The music is leaner and more concise than we're used to from Pearl Jam, the performances brisk, frisky and light on their feet.

Pearl Jam still has its musical limitations. It's a utilitarian, lunch-pail kind of band, but while it can't really storm the heavens, it's perfect for manning the barricades.

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