Don't call it a comeback: Eddie Vedder's Whitmanesque humanism trumps political complaint as his band churns out dud-free filler.
With their newest album, grunge-rock survivors Pearl Jam have garnered some of their best notices in years. Critics have hailed the album as "their best in 10 [years]" (Rolling Stone) and "the return to form that Pearl Jam fans have been waiting for" (Pitchforkmedia.com). And it's true, the band has had a "return to glory" album: 2002's Riot Act. It was that album that showed the band at the peak of their musical and lyrical prowess. The problem with Pearl Jam is that it's a summation of their previous work rather than a culmination.
If there is blame to be placed for this, it must fall at the feet of lead singer/songwriter Eddie Vedder. Vedder has written the lyrics for all but one of the album's tracks (and co-writes another with Damien Echols, one of the West Memphis Three) and likes to do nothing more than pontificate about the lies politicians tell and our attempt at escaping the ones we tell ourselves. On the political, Vedder's act wears thin, as he's rephrasing ideas he's spouted many times before. He's on firmer ground with the personal: His brand of Whitmanesque humanism just seems to improve with age.
The album's highlights are retreads but ones at least worthy of their predecessors: "Gone" describes the desire to get out previously explored on "MFC." "Comatose" is a return to the punk sensibilities the band once flirted with more frequently. At least there's a few firsts: "Come Back," a kind of modern country-blues tune for which Vedder's smoky-wounded voice is well suited, and "Inside Job," a hyper-produced rock extravaganza a la Use Your Illusion-era Guns N' Roses.
If you're looking to rediscover Pearl Jam, check out Riot Act. The new album -- though with notable bright spots and nary an outright dud -- is mostly filler. -- Greg Akers
Less and Less
The American Princes
Is there a harder trick to pull off in pop music at this moment than launching an all-male indie-rock band? Little Rock's the American Princes made two tuneful, guitar-centric albums for the hometown label, Max Recordings, before this leap to big-deal indie Yep Roc. Less and Less is a tight record that delivers the forgotten thrills of gritty rock-and-roll with driving guitars propped up by well-thought-out melodies. "Annie," a melancholy, end-of-relationship song that reminds one of Paul Westerberg at the top of his game, is where you know this band might have a chance to beat the long odds. Certainly there is as much pleasure in Less and Less as there is in any of the albums released by the Strokes. ("Never Grow Old," "This Is the Year")
-- Werner Trieschmann
Broken Boy Soldiers
Mixed (but not recorded) in Memphis, this is Jack White (Stripes)'s boy band -- a safe haven to talk about girls without having an actual one in the studio to either keep him honest or (more importantly) inspire him to transcend guy-rock generality. With poppier indie vet Brendan Benson (theoretically, the McCartney to White's Lennon) collaborating and the rock-solid rhythm section from Ohio garage-rockers the Greenhornes backing them up, the Raconteurs are a more conventional, less resonant gloss on the Stripes' mission: Instead of transforming classic-rock tropes, they just play them -- and well. The sugary power chords that drive the commitment-phobic lead track/first single "Steady As She Goes" signify Pixies/Nirvana, but the rest is pure mid-'60s-to-early-'70s Revolver and The Who Sell Out and lots of lesser objects of adoration. The music is strong; the songs disappear on contact. Bet they're real good live, though. ("Steady As She Goes," "Together," "Store Bought Bones")
-- Chris Herrington