Pearl Jam's recording career began a decade ago, when Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain carped they were fabricated grunge. Never mind the double standards of his error. Pearl Jam have since outrun any verdict against them with seven albums in the time most acts release three. All we know is they have yet to make a bad one and obscure Pearl Jam songs keep maturing years after release as staples in pubs and far-flung backpacker haunts. Suddenly the band has weight.
Eddie Vedder has grown into his engrossed voice and can turn a phrase: 'The haves have not a clue.' Riot Act's opening militaristic drum roll suggests a rallying call before Vedder sings wearily of death and trying life in the next world. By track three he has cemented a lugubriously hopeful tone: 'First comes love, then comes pain. Let the games begin/ it's already been sung, but it can't be said enough/ all you need is love'. A brave band puts this much work into letting each track slide further into fatigue. Without the catchy near-ballads that broke up the despondency on its predecessors, Riot Act is unlikely to sell. Many will assume Pearl Jam have withered - until they see how well the digs at George W Bush's privileged life in oil and baseball have been orchestrated: 'He's not a leader, he's a Texas leaguer/ Swinging for the fence. Got lucky with a strike/ Drilling for fear. Makes the job simple'.
If the album flops, no doubt another will be out before their rivals have decided which Persian rug sets the right aura for the studio.