The rock journalism headlines have all read the same for Pearl Jam lately. Eddie Vedder and his bandmates would have a lot to prove with Yield, their fifth and most anticipated full- length release in which the band is being forced to prove it has not yet reached its musical peak.
Five years ago, Vedder and his counterparts were among the most celebrated participants in the grunge rock revolution. Today, the revolution is long since over, and many of the bands popularized during that period have met their demise. Pearl Jam would have to prove that it's not a band whose viability can be measured against the prevalence of flannel shirts.
One of the pressures Yield will have to face is that people expect it to offer some clue about where American rock is headed. With genre fusions rising in popularity, many have proclaimed that straight-on rock and roll is dead. Could Pearl Jam provide something more enthralling than the Britpop, trip-hop and bubblegum be-bop that's been commercialized in recent months?
And would Yield finally become the album where Pearl Jam reigned in the massive ego of its lead singer? Vedder's public image as a disturbed artist and political activity has gotten his band into loads of problems. The only difference Pearl Jam made while boycotting Ticketmaster and scalpers was that fans had to travel to undesirable and obscure venues just to see the band in concert. And, how was it that Vedder, who always claimed to not want the limelight, was always popping up on "Letterman?"
At first listen, Yield doesn't do anything to put those concerns to rest. Most of the songs seem to sound just like the average Pearl Jam selection. However, this disc is one that requires repeated listenings to get the gist of what the band is trying to communicate.
Upon being digested and dissected, Yield is perhaps the most lyrically powerful album Pearl Jam has ever produced. Most of the songs were written by Vedder alone, and they seem to finally offer insight into his journey from a troubled, pop culture icon into adulthood. The songs are overwrought with spiritual imagery as angels, oceans, faith and God are all common topics. But even when Vedder sings about characters in third person, it seems pretty obvious that he's talking about himself.
In "Wishlist," Vedder expresses a need to connect with people, then reverses himself seconds later. "Given to Fly," the record's first single, profiles an angel who escapes from a lonely captivity, just to return to the pain later in order to share love. But perhaps the most ironic entry is "All Those Yesterdays." Repeatedly, Vedder asks himself if he has accomplished and experienced enough in this life, eventually concluding that he may never be satisfied. "What are you running from?" he asks. "All those yesterdays," is his answer.
In short, Yield is like other Pearl Jam albums in that it maintains the legacy of Vedder's struggles as a tortured soul. However, the songs seem more honest than in previous efforts. With its spiritual tone, Yield seems to offer more insight into why Vedder is who he is and who he longs to become. But more importantly, Yield proves that Pearl Jam, and even rock music, is still alive and kicking. What remains to be seen is whether the fans can deal with the band's new level of maturity.