My dad loves Pearl Jam. He told me this early one morning, months ago -- out of the blue, 15 years after the release of its first album, Ten.
Five years ago, his liberal, fledgling-music-critic son would have delighted in his new fancy for one of the sole bands of the past two decades to combine punk politics, classic rock contagion, and believable grit. But PJ was off my radar: I had seen the band twice in the last year. Their three-hour workhorse sets were solid enough, but my attention was elsewhere. Music critics have, in general, been elsewhere too, for at least a decade. But Dad was onto something.
If there's anything Vedder and PJ are guilty of in the eyes of critics, cynics, and hipsters, it's the unwavering sincerity that has marked the band's work. Kids who grew up on grunge went to college expecting Vedder to go too and perhaps become more Malkmus-like, less direct. But by that point -- 1998's half-there Yield, 2000's revelatory Binaural, 2002's reactionary Riot Act, 2006's charged Pearl Jam (which received the band's best reviews in years) -- Vedder was approaching 40. He didn't have time for smirks. He upped the meat-and-potatoes quotient, moving material between poles of sun-baked country and firm-fisted rockers. This was neither cute nor comely, and Vedder fell from cool, reduced to an idol of full-fledged votaries or radio-rock meatheads.
Bullshit. Vedder stands as one of the most concise, forceful songwriters floating anywhere near the mainstream, and he's clung to ideals with a grip to be revered, not reviled. From Ticketmaster to Bush, Vedder has been a practitioner, not a preacher. In the long run of coffee-shop Powerbooking or PDA planning, that's less attractive than being cute or sad.
Then again, I never looked good in girl jeans. Dad doesn't either.