“Unemployable” (Pearl Jam, 2006)
The self-titled “avocado” album was a decently successful comeback but a little too dry in its meat-and-potatoes execution; never trust a “back-to-basics” record. But “Unemployable” was Pearl Jam’s best rock song since Yield, with one of their most inventive riffs and an atypically detailed Vedder narrative of the class-conscious (“He’s got a big gold ring that says ‘Jesus Saves’ /And it’s dented from the punch thrown at work that day”).
“Come Back” (Pearl Jam, 2006)
A big, goofy, “Everybody Hurts”-style R&B ballad that would be boring as fuck in anyone else’s catalog but a welcome addition to Pearl Jam’s. Going full Van Morrison could save them yet.
“Big Wave” (Pearl Jam, 2006)
Avocado is full of pretty-good rockers that don’t accrue weight with time (“World Wide Suicide, “Life Wasted,” “Comatose”). And then there’s this one, which does, thanks to a chorus melody that has, intriguingly, too many notes, all of which are self-harmonized to blissful non-perfection. And check out Matt Cameron’s math-rock breakdown ending.
“Gonna See My Friend” (Backspacer, 2009)
Backspacer and Lightning Bolt are, frankly, Pearl Jam’s least interesting albums, and the highlight from each is a single: the truly excellent “The Fixer” and the hilariously overblown “Sirens,” which admirably leans into its lighter-waving. But Backspacer is the slightly less forgettable of the two, thanks to very occasional attention-getters like “Force of Nature” and this spirited opener, which strives for a little Chuck Berry and doesn’t altogether fail. (My editor wants me to shout out “Unthought Known,” which I admittedly didn’t remember at all.)
“Comes Then Goes” (Gigaton, 2020)
Similarly, I don’t find the new Gigaton nearly as re-energized as everyone else, despite spirited performances from a Roger Daltrey-channeling Vedder on “Never Destination” or the welcome femme-backup on the choruses of “Take the Long Way.” The band definitely sounds like they’re confidently having fun again, though, even on this six-minute acoustic highlight in all its crystalline-strummed glory.