Pearl Jam 

Pearl Jam (J)

It's a shame that Pearl Jam is a great album. Not because there's anything wrong with Pearl Jam — whose waistlines increasingly edge upward on the quintet's thirtysomething bodies — putting together a pop-rock album with fire and vigor. The first three songs, particularly the radio-perfect "World Wide Suicide," showcase a screaming, off-the-walls Pearl Jam that sounds straight out of the mid-'90s and redeems the band's sliding relevance. Rather, it's a shame because an album that retreads the best moments on Vitalogy, No Code and Yield wins out mostly by comparison to the rest of the modern-rock landscape. If mainstream radio wasn't such a mess, certain facts — "Comatose" is a near-replica of "Spin the Black Circle," "Gone" is a watered-down version of "Given to Fly," the middle third of the album washes by with barely a memorable hook — would be enough to sink the ship. But Pearl Jam's status as grunge nobles affords them the right to ride the nostalgia train and keep old fans happy with the status quo. But, hey, it could be worse, as evidenced by Binaural; this time, at least Pearl Jam loaded the old rig with a shitload of coal.

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