Thankfully, the record’s tone never drowns in the stormy waters — the compositions throughout range from energetic to elegiac, and the band seems to have learned that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. The playing is, as expected, top notch. By now, these guys could smoke most rock bands with their guitars stuck permanently behind their backs. And the sound will be comforting to those who yearn for the straightforward Pearl Jam of old. If you listen closely, however, they do sneak some of the key changes, countermelodies and time-signature shifts they’ve been experimenting with recently into as many of Pearl Jam’s tightly wound songs as they can get away with.
I’m not sure, though, that there’s anything for the ages on this record. As a piece, it sounds whole and it sounds good and, several listens in, many of the hooks stick in your brain — you just might not be able to name the songs that go with them. But Pearl Jam is a much-appreciated kick in the ass to the complacency and triviality that plagues music, and culture in general, from some of our most reliable rabble-rousers. Which is another way of saying it’s kind of refreshing to hear songs that are about something again. Wolfmother, are you listening?