From the start, when Eddie Vedder joined Pearl Jam in 1990 and catapulted them above the late-’80s/early-’90s meathead-rock fray, he was a super-charismatic frontman with few peers. Three decades later, thanks to his magnetic presence and sharp instincts, they’re one of the last bands from the era still standing.
They’ve stayed relevant for the most part by not playing to the huge expectations debut album Ten promised. The band put out a record in 2020, Gigaton, but Pearl Jam haven’t really made a Pearl Jam album since 1998’s Yield (though LPs like 2013’s Lightning Bolt come close). Vedder’s creative restlessness has often seemed at odds with his bandmates’ more commonplace aspirations, so their albums come off more like compromises than full-band statements.
That makes Vedder’s solo career up to this point a bit puzzling. His discography includes two soundtrack LPs and a 2011 album called Ukulele Songs, which is pretty much just that: songs composed and performed on a small, four-string guitar. You begin to wonder: Are movie scores and tiny-sounding folk songs Vedder’s only designs outside of his band?
Enter Earthling, the singer’s first proper solo album, made with a group of pros – two Chili Peppers, drummer Chad Smith and keyboardist and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer; Frames and Swell Season singer and guitarist Glen Hansard; current Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney; and Andrew Watt, who produces and plays guitar here – and a lineup of A-list guests you’d expect on a project like this, including Elton John, Ringo Starr and Stevie Wonder. The results are more straightforward than those found on a typical Pearl Jam record. It’s radio rock before Pearl Jam, Nirvana and others like them changed the terrestrial landscape, coupled with more direct lines to political and personal notes.
“You are light, you are principal,” Vedder sings on opener “Invincible,” channeling Peter Gabriel‘s mid-’80s grandiosity. Earthling doesn’t skimp on songs either: “Power of Right,” “Long Way,” “Brother the Cloud” and “The Dark” boast more melodic muscle than any recent Pearl Jam album, recalling at times the arena-made enormity of Tom Petty and the slightly smaller-scale guitar workouts of Dinosaur Jr. The album’s second half slips into more familiar, post-’90s territory, reminding you of Vedder’s influence on his full-time band (and their influence on him). There’s no escaping that, only temporary respites.
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