Pearl Jam Floors it Through Yield

Pearl Jam - Yield
(Epic Records)
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)

By Tony Bonyata

It usually takes a talented rock group an eternity of climbing ladders to get to the top, if they ever make it at all. Pearl Jam, Seattle's grunge wonderkids, were thrust into the musical spotlight in the early nineties with their debut album 10 (5 would have been a more fitting title, since only half of it was really any good) and were heralded as the next big thing. Critics and fans both have put them on a pedestal that they've had a hard time justifying residency of ever since.
From their futile, but honorable, attempts at trying to curtail Ticketmaster's exorbitant ticket prices and surcharges to their somewhat self-righteous, almost nonexistent promotion of their last couple of albums, this band has ironically (yet purposely) been climbing down that same ladder in which they were escalated onto.
And it's done a world of good. On Pearl Jam's fifth album Yield the band has shed their loftiness in favor of sincerity, studio polish for street grit and (maybe most important) grunge for straight ahead inventive rock.
On the opening track, "Brain of J.", the band rips into a spirited rocker before settling into the slightly unpolished, anthematic "Faithfull". The first single "Given To Fly" is a proud, majestic piece that finds singer Eddie Vedder's trademark deep vocal warblings finally fully realized as his phrasings and ramblings soar throughout the number. Sounding like an early Springsteen (or late Dylan) Vedder cries, "I wish I was a neutron bomb...for once I could go off...I wish I was a sacrifice...that somehow still lived on" on the longing, yet hopeful "Wishlist". The album's zenith is the primordial stomp "Do The Evolution" where band members Stone Gossard (rhythm guitar), Mike McCready (lead guitar), Jack Irons (drums) and Jeff Ament (bass) churn out a prehistoric punk blackboard for Vedder to scratch his nail-like vocals onto.
Pearl Jam further sheds their past pretentiousness on "No Way" where Vedder strips himself of his rock-icon-with-a-cause garb as he nakedly states, "I'm not trying to make a difference... I just want someone to be there for me." Track seven is an untitled quirky song that eerily speeds up and slows down as the band sings "We're all crazy" over and over. The dark, bizarre number "Push Me, Pull Me" (although somewhat of a throwaway) finds the band exploring unchartered territory. And on the hidden untitled run-out track the band dances and claps their way through a Greek-inspired instrumental that conjures up the scene of cigarettes, ouzo and broken glass in an Aegean seaside shanty.
On their fifth and strongest album to date Pearl Jam are heading in the right direction, even if it's a few rungs below where they were unrightfully placed from the get-go.

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