[Album Review] “Riot Act” – Pearl Jam

Riot Act - Pearl JamAlbum Title: Riot Act
Artist: Pearl Jam
Year: 2002
Running Time: 54m 15s

Track listing: 1 Can’t Keep; 2 Save You; 3 Love Boat Captain; 4 Cropduster; 5 Ghost; 6 I Am Mine; 7 Thumbing My Way; 8 You Are; 9 (Wanted To) Get Right; 10 Green Disease; 11 Help Help; 12 Bushleaguer; 13 1/2 Full; 14 Arc; 15 All Or None

Oh what a pleasure. Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam return with album number seven, the boisterous-sounding “Riot Act”. There’s been nothing riotous about Pearl Jam’s music since the early days of “Ten” and “Vs”. In fact the band have probably developed and matured into a far better act over the last few years and albums like “Vitalogy”, “No Code” and “Binaural” contain numerous examples of under-stated rock brilliance. “Riot Act” is no different, and in fact is probably their best album since “Vs”.

Opening with the superb and typically unhurried ‘Can’t Keep’, we launch into the brazen frenzy of ‘Save You’, Vedder’s illustration of a love-hate relationship.

His lyrical supremacy is prevalent throughout the album. ‘Love Boat Captain’, a Pearl Jam classic and probably single material, is a further depiction of his black-and-white but almost poetic outlook on life. ‘The young, they can lose hope cause they can’t see beyond today’ he relates, before sensibly admitting that it is because they need ‘the wisdom that the old can’t give away’.

‘Cropduster’ is another lyrical and musical triumph. ‘I thought I thought the world; Turns out the world thought me; It’s all the other way round; We’re upside down’, he admits cryptically, supplying once and for all the answer to the oft-asked question ‘why are we here?.

In ‘Ghost’, Vedder discusses existentialism with his usual vigour and in ‘I Am Mine’ the spiritual side of his existence. ‘I only own my mind’, he acknowledges before admitting that ‘I know I was born and I know that I’ll die; the in-between is mine’.

‘You Are’ is a catchy, funky, bass-heavy love song and drummer Matt Cameron proves that he can write a mean rock tune too with the straight-forward ‘Get Right’. He’s not the only band member writing. Bassist Jeff Ament is responsible for the catchy ‘Help Help’ as well as the coarse and fun ‘1/2 Full’, and guitarist Stone Gossard has penned the wonderfully gentle self-realisation tune ‘All Or None’.

He’s also responsible for the ingenious ‘Bushleaguer’, a not-so-subtle verbal assault on current US President, George W Bush. ‘He’s not a leader, he’s a Texas leaguer; Swinging for the fence, he got lucky with a strike’, explains Vedder, relating the thoughts of most of the world. The casual downbeat metal riff is a perfect backbone especially for the foreboding realisation that ‘blackout weaves its way through the cities’.

‘Thumbing my Way’ is a more reflective country-style love song and ‘Green Disease’ is enjoyable punk-tempo rock fare.

I’m giving this the full five stars, because not only is there not one weak song on it, but the best songs are simply outstanding. It probably won’t return Pearl Jam to the forefront of rock music, but that’s more a reflection on the easy listening, lowest common denominator tastes of today. It’s engrossing, introspective, psycho-analytical – it’s loads of things. It’s superb.


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