PEARL JAM Riot Act (2002 UK 15-track CD album featuring the single I Am Mine Bushleaguer Save You & Love Boat Captain housed in a tri-fold digipak picture sleeve with picture/lyric booklet)
Despite metaphorically taking up arms against "the man" (well, Ticketmaster anyway) Pearl Jam do persist in making rather unconvincing rebels. Indeed, the excitableRiot Act is a rather declamatory album title for a band who really couldn't pass for insurrectionists if you stuck a barrel of gunpowder under their arms and asked them to stand in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament on November 5. Throw-in Eddie Vedder's ever-present pursuit of life-defining lyrical profundity ("the ocean is full 'cos everyone's crying") and tendency to sing like a whimpering old man with no teeth and it's little wonder that aficionados of cerebral rock music view Pearl Jam as either crosses to bear or just a bloody nuisance.
Shamefully, these sometimes justified prejudices tend to cloud any sensible overall critical judgement of Pearl Jam, namely that they've made some of the bravest, brawniest and self-indulgently insular amp-cranking rock of our times. And Riot Act is no exception. Indeed, the untamed fury of "Save You" and the militant green politics of "Cropduster" are tailor-made for mosh-pit mayhem while the spoken-word agitprop of "Bushleaguer" pursues the bands' experimental curve with aplomb. The best tune is undeniably the single "I Am Mine", a creepy distant melodious-cousin of "House of the Rising Sun", while the silliest--in a whisky-sodden "Jim Morrison is really a poet" kind of way--is obviously "Love Boat Captain". And despite containing the most insufferable moment of lyrical nonsense of recent times--"It's an art to live with pain" (choose your own response from either (a) "Brother, we feel your suffering" or (b) "Oh do shut up you silly old goose and take an aspirin")--Riot Act is mostly infuriatingly superior rock music made by people who want to save the world, not torch it. --Kevin Maidment
If ever a band stood for innovation rather than imitation then Pearl Jam are it. Riot Act is the seventh album from the Seattle five-piece and the strongest indication yet of a band refusing to compromise their direction regardless of commercial pressures or musical trends.
Certainly, with the current climate favouring nu-grunge outfits such as Nickleback and Puddle of Mudd, now would be as good a time as ever for the Seattle band to return to the fray and deliver an album of anthemic-styled grunge. Considering the decline in previous album sales, some might argue it would be the most sensible thing to do.
However, Pearl Jam have rejected this route. Instead, Riot Act is an album full of rustic melodies and angular guitars, a record that is more Neil Young than Nirvana. While it may seem a brave move it hardly comes as a surprise. Ever since 96's No Code, their career path erred towards a semi-acoustic trajectory. 2000's Binaural straddled a laid-back experimental palette that left anyone pining for the Pearl Jam of old sorely disappointed.
Riot Act explores this direction even further. The first single to be taken from the album, "I am Mine", is as near as Pearl Jam have come to touch balladry. Refined guitars, complete with concluding modest solo, produce a soothing, yet simultaneously achingly vulnerable song; albeit one that is so middle of the road you can almost see the white markings.
Although maturity has served Pearl Jam well, this record is far from representative of a band growing old gracefully. Check out the unsettling opener "Can't Keep" and the strident dynamism of "Save You". These tracks are perfect slices of unreconstructed rock; evidence that Pearl Jam never lost the art of penning memorable tunes.
Riot Act reaffirms Pearl Jam's place in rock: not so much grunge survivors as experimental rock flag-wavers. Eleven years on from their epochal debut Ten, an album that paved the way for the Seattle grunge scene, Pearl Jam may well have finally have laid the ghost of their past to rest. Who would have thought it? --Catherine Chambers
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