The announcement that Pearl Jam have a new single called ”World Wide Suicide” is the sort of thing to inspire both hope and apprehension. Their last stab at topicality, 2002’s nose-thumbing ”Bushleaguer,” didn’t exactly establish Eddie Vedder as a go-to guy for geopolitical wisdom. On the other hand, his passionate howl seems more valuable now, pitted against the navel-gazing emo whine that’s commandeered the landscape. Tell us about the war, Eddie! we might even nervously ask, knowing that, in a world full of boys sent to do a man’s job of rocking, Pearl Jam can still pull off gravitas.
But what we really want — and what they’ve been stingy with for a decade — is fast, furious, breakneck gravitas. Surprise: They stand and deliver on this belatedly eponymous barnstormer, the seriously hopped-up effort fans have been pining for since Vitalogy. Not that Pearl Jam is a perfect Ten. Vedder’s lyrics can still be as clumsy as heartfelt, and the album’s probably shorter on band perennials than punky firepower. But a shocking late-career freneticism predominates, married to a seriousness of purpose that is no longer high on pesky moral superiority.
What’s got them fired up? War collateral, naturally (”Army Reserve”); the impersonality of big business (”Unemployable”); separation due to divorce or death (”Come Back”). But mostly, with apologies to Dylan Thomas, they sound like a band successfully raging against the dying of their own relevance…as well as, you know, the machine.