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Pearl Jam - Riot Act (Epic)

Come on lads, pack it in. Ye're old, your hair is short and Seattle is now more famous from being the place where Frasier lives in. Please for the love of our Alternative Rock, God don't go to bits like such bands as REM, The Manics and Suede. That is what was running through my mind as the missus got me Pearl Jam's latest release. You know what I mean - when your beloved cult bands who trade in their mystique for Greenpeace or the Millennium Stadium in Wales. Here we go Eddie is gonna' do a Bruce Springsteen and sing about 11th September.

But no, Pearl Jam have neither tried to cash in on the artificial patriotic suffering of one nation under God or produced an overly tired collection of songs about growing old and changing your ways for your children. It opens with a rather whimsical tune called 'Can't keep'. There is a beautiful string arrangement with heavy solid drums and that moaning bass effect that Jeff Ament always manages to make. It's neither droll nor risky, it just kind of meanders its way through almost a blend of American folk and Eastern strings.

Next up is a song where I think they just got Pete Townshend in to do a bit of jamming. 'Save you' is a typical rocker song, all instruments blasting off each other. It will no doubt be a song to be played live. Pearl Jam's rockier songs usually sound so much fuller and better live, take for example, 'Do the evolution'.

From this, the album seems to chug along at a regular pace, alternating between folkishness and hard rock 'till we get to the first single on the collection, 'I am mine'. Again, this one starts off with a sensual string arrangement, but there are also some insightful lyrics that for some reason reminds of the Pro-Choice Movement and the problems genuine musicians have from fan adulation and obsession that Vedder as the 'tortured poet' is plagued with. It is the very simple but touching lyric "I know I was born and I know I will die, The in between is mine" that reminds me of this. It isn't an exceptional song, but it's nice to listen to.

The only song that grates on my nerves is 'Thumbing my way'. It's very much a frothy love song that doesn't really go anywhere either musically or lyrically. It's more like a filler from a Hooty and the Blowfish album, which can't be a good thing. But, it has to be said this is the only black spot that really crops up on the album.

One song in particular that does show some divergence from the Pearl Jam norm is 'You are'. The pace is all strange and the guitaring is ragged and cuts in and out. Not that this a bad thing. To me, it sounds slightly electro rock as Eddie croons along. Again, not too risky but different. 'Green disease' is another strange song that chops and changes from chorus to verse, but fits very well. At one point, it starts to sound a bit Mudhoneyish, but this certainly ain't a bad thing!

Eddie also has a swipe at President Bush in 'Bushleaguer', but, apart from that, there is no controversy on the album to report. After the one-sidedness of "Binaural", which had too many extreme rock bits and extreme folk bits and no centre ground to get used to. "Riot act" is, in a sense, a return to form in that it has a mixture of the outlandish and surreal as well as catchy tunes that makes the album easier to get used to. Let's hope it ain't the storm before the mediocre 'save the planet' calm.

Gerard Meade

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