Photo Credit: Danny Clinch
“I’m still alive,” a 26-year-old Eddie Vedder sang on Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten back in 1991. In 2022 – as Vedder turns 58-years-old – that’s still a reality, unlike many of his alternative rock contemporaries who broke through in the lyrically ominous wave of grunge. Vedder has always seemed like one of the most emotionally stable names in the genre, sharing his down-to-earth mentality with someone like for example Bruce Springsteen. This own-to-earth mentality is reflected in his third solo album (including the terrific soundtrack he put together for the 2007 motion picture Into the Wild).
Named after his long-time backup band, the Earthlings, our Pearl Jam frontman has crafted one of the most spirited and playful albums of his career, entering his fourth decade as a household name. It’s simply the sound of an artist doing what he knows best – alternative rock with plenty of muscle. Earthling starts as a pretty straight-forward arena rock record, with Eddie routinely contributing his trademark larger-than-life vocals on tracks such as “Invincible”, “Long Way”, “Brother the Cloud”, and “Fallout Today”, all making for a great first side spared from any “old-rockstar-attempting-to-stay-relevant-but-coming-off-as-really-awkward”-tendencies.
These moments eventually arrive in the second part of the album, though, as Eddie turns down his large-scale ambitions in favor of having some fun with some old buds. But these come off as playful rather than silly, and well-played rather than gimmicky. Hearing a 71-year-old Stevie Wonder blasting off with a harmonica on “Try” is just so much fun, as Elton John makes a stand as the piano man on “Picture”, while Ringo Starr keeps a steady beat on “Mrs. Mills.” You don’t need me to tell you that anyone who gets three such valuable names to perform on your record has probably deserved it. It’s charming, and what’s even better is that it sounds great, too!
Like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Smashing Pumpkins, and Tom Morello to name a few, the biggest problem with Earthling is, of course, that Eddie Vedder has done it even better before. This album won’t leave its stamp on the map of alternative rock music like Pearl Jam’s early work did, and casual fans will keep listening to “Alive”, “Black”, and “Even Flow” as the rock radio stations rotate the same old favorites into eternity. But I’m positive that real fans of Eddie or Pearl Jam will embrace this sophisticated, resonant, and diverse album with their whole hearts. It’s simply one of the best rock albums of the year so far.