Sound — 9
Pearl Jam fans are like addicts. They need a new fix on a regular basis. Fortunately, the band has been very good to them, releasing eight studio albums, double-disc rarities and greatest hits collections, and more than 100 live albums in their 16-year career. This output has been more than enough to satisfy these die-hard fans, even if the abundance of recordings has decreased their popularity with the general public through the years. As a die hard, I don't care about this decreased popularity. I just want more music from the band whenever I can get my hands on it. Just a little over a year since the band's self-titled studio effort on J Records, and just three months since the seven-disc Live at the Gorge box set, fans have another fix waiting for them -- this time in the form of lead singer Eddie Vedder's first solo album, the soundtrack to his buddy Sean Penn's Into The Wild film. Technically it's not Pearl Jam. Instead of multiple guitars, featuring blistering Mike McCready solos, and pounding drums from the always-reliable Matt Cameron, formerly of Soundgarden, listeners are left with Vedder's voice and a small selection of backing instruments, including the ukulele. On two songs, Tuolumne and The Wolf, Vedder doesn't even leave his voice, opting to give listeners instrumentals that don't really add anything to the album, but nor do they detract from the listening experience. But the songs on Vedder's solo debut would not sound out of place on a Pearl Jam album. Think about all the sparse songs the band has recorded, like Thumbing My Way from Riot Act, Indifference from Vs., Off He Goes from No Code, and Come Back from Pearl Jam. And then imagine putting all of them on one album. That album would be very similar to Into the Wild. Coming in at a little more than 33 minutes on 11 songs, Into The Sun is a quick and enjoyable listen. Although Vedder's voice doesn't quite hit the notes like it did earlier in his career, he compensates by writing songs that are suited for his rough gravelly sound. Vedder covers two songs for this soundtrack that really suit his voice well. Indio's Hard Sun, written by reclusive Canadian musician Gordon Peterson, is the lead single from Into the Wild for a good reason. It's the best song. There's a big/A big hard sun/Beating on the big people/In the big hard world Vedder sings, which will send chills down the spines of thousands of listeners, something he has done often in his career. The second best song, Society, is also a cover. This time from a song by San Francisco musician Jerry Hannan, who contributes backing vocals. Both songs prove Vedder knows how to interpret the work of others, which he has consistently done throughout his stellar recording career.
Lyrics — 10
Like the sparse sound of the album, Vedder often writes sparse lyrics. Less is more seems to be his motto. Moving on/A scene surreal/Know my heart will never/Never be far from home Vedder sings in No Ceiling. He's right by following his motto. A lot can be said by justing saying a little.
Overall Impression — 10
Although I haven't seen the film, I have read the book it's based on, Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, a true account of Christopher J. McCandless' inspiration but ultimately fatal journey to the Alaskan wilderness. It's easy to imagine Vedder's songs soundtracking the book, so I'm sure they do equal justice to the movie. By recording his first solo album as a soundtrack for one of his buddy's films, Vedder wisely doesn't allow for people to think he's leaving his band for a solo career. Instead Pearl Jam fans and other listeners can easily enjoy this album without the burden of worrying about the demise of Pearl Jam. They can have their fix and enjoy it too. The next fix, by the way, comes next week with the real of a Pearl Jam concert DVD.