Reassuringly strong

Nobody can argue with Pearl Jam's position amongst rock music's top order, however of late it seems that whatever they do has either gone unnoticed by the majority of music fans, or leaves those who hear it feeling underwhelmed or worse still, bored.

For any band to keep going for nearly two decades, their career is naturally going to have its low points as well as highs, and a few singles aside, the peak of Pearl Jam's career thus far came in the early to mid nineties. 'Ten' and 'Vs' are unquestionably two of the finest albums of that decade. The band could have retired happy in the knowledge that most won't ever create records which were received as fondly as that.

Credit where it's due, Pearl Jam have stuck to their guns, continuing to create music which they believe in and that makes them feel proud to be in a band, a sizable fan base has been kept contented by what they produce. However now that they are to headline Reading and Leeds, they need to release a record that does more than just tread water. It needs to have anthems of the standard of the past, and it needs to be of the quality that means those who watch them over the August bank holiday won't be baying for 'Alive', 'Black', 'Daughter' and the rest of the classics while the new stuff is being performed.

This self-titled album has had mixed reviews so far, those who knock it unfortunately seem to be living in the early nineties and have missed that this is a real return to form. The quality of song writing is as strong as ever, and the fact that this is a really rift heavy rock record makes for a very energizing listen. From the moment 'Life Wasted' explodes into action it is clear that this time Pearl Jam really mean it!

Even through the period where their music wasn't as greatly received as they'd have liked, Pearl Jam always had a great single up their sleeve. 'World Wide Suicide', despite its name, is a powerful and up-lifting slice of modern rock brilliance. The frenetic pace is continued through 'Comatose', Severed Hand' and 'Marker In The Sand, the latter has one of those amazingly catchy chorus hooks that made them such a well-loved band when 'Ten' catapulted them to superstardom. 'Unemployable' is another which has the class of a single about it, not as heavy as the opening part of the record and the guitar rifts in this have a classic seventies rock feel to them.

Pearl Jam don't just write excellent heavy rock, but their acoustic numbers and power ballads are just as strong. In the case of this album the more laid back tracks are left mainly for the end. 'Parachutes' is the first taste of this side of their work we get, its sound is quite surprising given what we're used to with this band's music, again the seventies spring to mind.

'Gone' is more typical of Pearl Jam's slower sound, a mix of mellow verses and big powerful chorus'. Along with 'Come Back' it promises to be a live highlight this summer.

The striking thing about this record is how it promises to transfer well into the live arena, which makes their arrival in August even more welcome. If someone tries to tell you that Pearl Jam haven't got it anymore, and aren't as good as they once were, look them straight in the eye and tell them they're lying to you, for this is better than most of us dared to hope for.