PEARL JAM – Pearl Jam (2006)

May 2nd, 2006, Pearl Jam released their self-titled, eighth album through J Records a subsidiary of Sony Music. Heralded at the time of release, as the return to form that Pearl Jam fans have been waiting for since Ten, Vs. or Vitalogy. Pearl Jam, (or Avocado, as it’s become known since, due to the bisected fruit adorning the album cover) is arguably the bands most consistent rock record since Vs.

No pump organ-flecked spoken-word jags about insects, no meandering Eastern-tinged meditations on life, no songs about Jeff Ament’s dog. Instead we get thirteen tracks that are as direct and to the point as the band has ever been. Nowhere does it sound more forceful than it does in its first half, when the tightly controlled rockers “Life Wasted,” “World Wide Suicide,” “Comatose,” “Severed Hand,” and “Marker in the Sand” pile up on top of each other, giving the record a genuine feeling of urgency.

Opening song “Life Wasted” thrashes in a way few Pearl Jam songs had since Vitalogy. The chorus refrain of “I have faced it, A life wasted, I’m never going back again” (inspired by the death of Johnny Ramone), it quickly becomes apparent the 2006 version of Pearl Jam was more closely channelling the screaming vengeance of Pearl Jam circa 1992/1993

“World Wide Suicide” follows, it’s another scorched earth ripper. Stone Gossard and Mike McCready sound fully unleashed, as does Vedder, who delivers a vocal shredding performance. In fact on most of this album, Vedder sounds as if the weight of world weariness that predominated his demeanour since the release of Vitalogy had been lifted.

Pearl Jam was recorded at Studio X in Seattle, Washington. The band began work on the album following the 2004 Vote for Change tour in November 2004, and again employed producer Adam Kasper, who worked with them on predecessor Riot Act. The recording sessions started in February 2005, and they worked on it off and on throughout the year, with the sessions being interrupted toward the end of the year when the band toured North America and South America. The album was completed in early 2006.

Pearl Jam’s contract with Epic Records had ended in 2003, but the band was not ready to release an album without label backing. Independent label Epitaph Records was considered, but the band wanted a company that would guarantee a wide release. Manager Kelly Curtis signed a one-record deal with J Records – which ironically during production became, like Pearl Jam’s former label Epic, a subsidiary of Sony Music after they merged with J’s parent company BMG.

All band members contributed to songwriting. With Vedder admitting the band “really went in with nothing.” Instead they sat around playing music together and discussed the song arrangements, and in just one week had completed ten songs. This approach may have contributed to the immediacy of the record. Gone were any overly complex ruminations, in its place, some straight up, life affirming Rock ‘N Roll. Albit, with a political and socially conscious slant.

“Unemployable” sketches an image of a family man who recently lost his job. “Gone” ruminates upon the dissolution of the American Dream, while also searching for an escape from life’s downward spiral. The furious “Big Wave,” helps set the stage for the twin closers of “Come Back” and “Inside Job.” The former is a slow-burning cousin to “Black” that finds Pearl Jam tapping into the emotional lightning rod they so easily channeled in their formative years.

Rather than tortured introspection, on Avocado, Vedder turns his attention to the world at large, directing an eviscerate scream at the state of play.

What makes Pearl Jam such an effective record is that it can be easily enjoyed without ever digging into Vedder’s lyrics, It’s an adrenaline rush of great rock songs, delivered with viscerality. Song for song, this is arguably their best set since Vitalogy (at the very least, the most consistent), and the band has rarely sounded as purposeful on record as they do here. By 2006 Pearl Jam were last men standing, Soundgarden dissolved in 1997, Alice In Chains had ended following the death of Layne Staley in 2002, so too Nirvana in 1994. Pearl Jam instead turned their back on the machine and focused inward. They made some brave decisions along the way, which in hindsight saved the band.

By Avocado, it began to feel like Pearl Jam were emerging from that phase of self protection. The shackles of expectation were off. Despite this record’s energy and velocity, it also showcases more than an “everything turned to 11” credo. It’s Pearl Jam’s evolving maturity, their gracefulness in aging and their tightness as a unit in full effect.