View Full Version : Pearl Jam "Riot Act" Review

11-04-2002, 10:20 PM
here is a review i wrote of the new pj album for the johns hopkins newsletter (newspaper). however they have not put it in yet so who knows if they will throw it out or what.

one thing is that i kind of regret making the album sound so good, because quite frankly i'm not all that impressed. yes it's pearl jam, yes i like it, but i just don't really see it as one of their strongest albums

and the comparison of nirvana and pj to the beatles and zeppelin, i dont know if that' quite deserved, but i guess it's dramatic or something or maybe not

alright here it is:(yeah there might be grammatical errors as well)

Pearl Jam Leave Alt-Rock in the Rearview mirror- enter “Riot Act”
By: Kevin J.B. O’Connor

Twelve years ago in Seattle, two grieving friends (formerly of local band Mother Love Bone), one volatile and talented lead guitarist and one deliberately shy surfer from San Diego huddled together at local club “The Off Ramp.” Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament had just lost their friend (singer Andrew Wood) to heroin, and Mother Love Bone had been forced to disband. Stone and Jeff found themselves searching for new musicians and began to record demos with their friend, guitarist Mike McCready. Eddie Vedder, then residing in Southern California had received a tape from Stone, Jeff, and Mike and immediately began to write lyrics and melodies for such future Pearl Jam classics as “Alive”, “Black”, “Release”, and “Yellow Ledbetter.”
Six weeks later, Eddie found himself in Seattle, ready to play the first show in the new local band Pearl Jam. The crowd at the Off Ramp was skeptical. Who was this new singer playing with the former members of Mother Love Bone? Eddie was quiet, withdrawn, and shunned attention. Andrew had been the opposite: he was an all out “in your face” rock star. By the time the show was over, there were no questions. As Eddie closed out the final words to “Release”, the crowd was floored; Pearl Jam was amazing!
Now after more than a decade of sculpting the sound and image of modern alternative rock, selling millions of records, and fighting constantly all the way to maintain their musical integrity Pearl Jam is back. They are prepared to “rock” in a way that only a band at this level is capable. Those rare bands can be counted on two hands: The Beatles, Nirvana, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin…you get the idea?
Despite their massive success in the early 90’s, the members of Pearl Jam have always stayed level. After the explosion of “Ten”, their debut album, Eddie explained some of the meaning in an interview with Rolling Stone: "When you're out in the desert, you can't believe the amount of stars. We've sent mechanisms out there, and they haven't found anything. They've found different colors of sand, and rings and gases, but nobody's shown me anything that makes me feel secure in what happens afterward. All I really believe in is this fucking moment, like right now. And that, actually, is what the whole album talks about."
Today, with albums such as No Code, Yield, and Binaural appearing within the last seven years, Pearl Jam has taken a departure. Alternative rock no longer dominates entire albums. In its place are ukuleles, among other things. This resulted (partially) from a challenge between Vedder and former Soundgarden singer Chris Cornell to write a “sad song” on a ukulele. Vedder offered up Binaural’s “Soon Forget.” Organs, world beats, chanting, and punk (is it the Mohawk Eddie?) also now appear on recent Pearl Jam albums.
Riot Act, Pearl Jam’s seventh studio album, continues with their experimentation.
In part, Pearl Jam’s new album sounds like another success in their nearly unmatched catalog of consistently great albums. “I Am Mine”, the first single off of Riot Act, immediately asserts itself as one of Pearl Jam’s best works. Written and performed by Vedder on acoustic guitar, the studio features organ by guest “Boom”, and inspired lead guitar work by Mike McCready. Other songs such as the opener “Can’t Keep” (complete with ukulele and layered acoustic guitars), the beautiful and folksy “Thumbing My Way”, and the Blues inspired Ament song “1/2 Full” display Pearl Jam’s songwriting prowess. Perhaps the greatest testament to the musical talent of Pearl Jam is that they share songwriting duties evenly. Even new drummer Matt Cameron of Soundgarden (who joined before the Binaural sessions), penned two songs for “Riot Act.” “You Are” is a strange mix of straight forward drums and syncopated guitar in which Cameron ran his guitar riff through a drum machine-like effect. “You Are” seems to grow stronger with each listen with Vedder singing the line “Love is a tower” before the song breaks loose.
The issues dealt with on “Riot Act” are similar to past Pearl Jam albums, but now they assume a more outright and specific role. Love, existentialism, consumerism, freedom, individualism, and corruption all are significant on “Riot Act.” Although sometimes, the themes are welcome additions, they also prove to be the striking weakness of the album. At times, the lyrics feel contrived and forced, which Pearl Jam has normally avoided (sounding quite the opposite). “Green Disease” and “Bushleaguer” are examples. The first begins with a quip about the corruption of corporative executives: “It’s a disease and they’re all green, it emanates from their being.” “Bushleaguer” follows, with spoken satirical comments about George W. Bush that seem to cloud the musical statement. It is difficult to accept a song like “Bushleaguer”, especially since it does have so much potential. Bassist Jeff Ament commented to the Seattle Times: “It took me awhile, because he (Eddie) actually originally sang over the verses in that song, and he had a really cool melody. I had a hard time letting go of that.”
Despite it’s occasional missteps, “Riot Act” recovers well, closing the album with one minute of chanting in “Arc” (10 condensed vocal tracks of low, medium, and high recorded by Eddie), and another moving acoustic track “All or None.” It is an album closer along the lines of Vs.’ “Indifference” and Binaural’s “Parting Ways.”
So, is “Riot Act” Pearl Jam’s best album to date? Guitarist Mike McCready may provide the best (or only) answer at this point: “Well, it has the most guitar solos so I guess it’s the best.” However, when asked about the title of the album in a recent interview, the band members remained silent. “Next question” Vedder finally uttered amidst a rising wave of tension. So, go figure it out yourself; pick up “Riot Act” in stores beginning November 12th. It is well worth the investment in a band that is now one of the most integral to modern rock and roll. Check out Pearl Jam appearing on Letterman on November 14th and 15th. Or don’t, keep on listening to Dylan, as my suitemate says, “Pearl Jam owes everything to him.” Either way, you’ll see things so much clearer (in the) rearview mirror.

11-04-2002, 10:23 PM
Reading your disclaimer/intro made me not want to read the review.

11-04-2002, 10:25 PM

11-04-2002, 10:35 PM
Originally posted by MachinaMan

actually yeah and i appreciate it. you told me that your review was innaccurate and starstruck, and suffered from the standard rock critic disease of comparing shit to nirvana and the beatles.

saved me some time.

11-04-2002, 10:51 PM
well quite frankly, i don't think there is anything wrong with comparing anyone to the beatles or nirvana or any other band that ever existed. do you want me to compare pearl jam to someone who they are not similar to. the truth is that pearl jam (was/is) a mainstream band and have sold many records/had a lot of success. i can't compare them to a small scale indie band that doesnt live in the mainstream spotlight.
all i was saying, is that i'm not sure pearl jam or nirvana deserve to be up there with the beatles. not that the beatles are almighty or anything, but certainly the songs have been listened to for many many years and withstood all that time.

also, i dont go out and say that "riot act" is fantastic in the review. i try to point out it's weaknesses but also i'm more optimisitic. i'm sick of reading reviews that say an album sucks and just go on and complain about it. i also don't like reviews that say and album is the greatest ever and all that. there must be a balance, and that balance is "the truth." so i just tried to be truthful. someone told me that i made the album sound great after they read the review, and that was not exactly what i was thinking when i was writing it, so i just wanted to let people know in my "disclaimer" as you call it

11-04-2002, 11:10 PM
So rewrite the review and make it go along with your opinion.

I didn't read it, by the way. I'm going off yer promotion.

11-05-2002, 12:28 AM
I don't understand why the Newsletter makes people feel like they can't publish bad reviews, just because they got something for free.

I'm not really down with this year's editorial board (Arts, anyway), which is why I haven't written anything this year.

11-05-2002, 12:44 AM
whats the NEWSLEETTEr

11-05-2002, 02:27 AM

i don't know, but i read some reviews in the last few weeks that have been bad reviews.
something about the mediocrity of the weezer ep.
or how bad the new duncan sheik cd was ( i admit though i had never even heard of him before he came to jhu)
also there was a bad review of a new band (forget the name here,sorry)
yeah, i guess i could agree with you though, taking a larger sample of reviews.
but that's not what i was thinking here with pearl jam. i DO think "riot act" is good and i DO think people would enjoy listening to it. i just really don't think it is pearl jam's best(granted their best is pretty great).
i remember your writings on zwan and abandoned pools last year and enjoyed reading stuff about the pumpkins(well sort of the pumpkins/sort of BC) in the newsletter. i was shocked when i saw those articles.
this year i just asked if i could review "riot act" i dont know if i intend to write anything else. i really don't know if i would enjoy writing a review of something that i was not at all interested in. I mean, I don't really see the point entirely of reviewing a new group that really isn't that great. if you are just going to say how horrible it is, then when should i read the rest? i'd rather not have know about them in the first place. I would like, however, to read about a new band that is really great, so i can get excited and go pick up the cd. with better know bands/artists, (i.e. pearl jam,beck,rolling stones,tompetty, foofighters, etc.) this doesn't work though, i might mistakenly buy one of these albums assuming it will be good. In that case, I definately would want to read a bad review about it so I can at least begin to form my own opinion.
alright i'm done-


11-05-2002, 04:32 AM
Yeah, I know the feeling. I only write about things I really like or really don't. But I try to keep away from the freebies, b/c sometimes they are corrupting, in a way.

If you feel like you overpraised it, you have a duty to the truth. I know it's probably too late to change it, but still...if YOU think that the article doesn't say what you mean, then it needs to be changed. If not for the Newsletter, then just for yourself. That doesn't mean rewrite it, but I think you know what I mean.

As for myself, I'm sometimes too hardcore for my own good. I mean, Christ, out of my six or so music articles, I had to travel at least 4 hours by car to get all but one of them. So I definitely wanted to pass along the info.

I'm gonna try to do John Vanderslice and the Mountain Goats. Well, maybe if I have time. And almost definitely Kool Keith when he comes in December. Again, if I have time. I've been living in an AVID editing suite these past few weeks, so it remains to be seen if I have the luxury. Plus, I'm almost absolutely broke.

Wait, why are we talking about me? It's 4 AM, I'll shut up.

11-05-2002, 09:18 AM
if the reviewer is a talented writer, I tend to enjoy reading about any band, regardless of how good or bad they are. Pitchfork is a good example of this.

Jesse Miller
11-05-2002, 02:06 PM
Originally posted by Finsta
Reading your disclaimer/intro made me not want to read the review.

11-05-2002, 07:43 PM
Originally posted by Jesse Miller

pretend it's not there. it's not so hard, you can do it

Jesse Miller
11-06-2002, 11:55 AM
Originally posted by MachinaMan

pretend it's not there. it's not so hard, you can do it

There's also too many words.