Since Pearl Jam dragged grunge out of Seattle and into the spotlight 15 years ago with Ten, they’ve made a career out of stumbling over good intentions: fighting with Ticket-master, releasing hundreds of bootlegs, and attacking the president. These foibles have been reflected in their music, resulting in problematic albums that feel tentative and incomplete. Things have rarely come easy for Pearl Jam, and most of the time they’ve stacked the deck against themselves.
Now, with the release of their eighth studio album, most of the band members have done what older guys do: get married, start families, grow up. But rather than rage against the time machine, they seem to be having fun. Despite its dark title, the single “World Wide Suicide” is a speedy, punky song played with the reckless abandon of a garage band. And even though Eddie Vedder sings “Leave the fame to someone else” over the best riff Pete Townshend never wrote (on “Life Wasted”), he actually chuckles just before the last chorus. It’s a small detail, but it’s a sign that Pearl Jam are taking themselves less seriously, and it fits them like a snug flannel shirt.