There are worse ways to end a long and fruitful career at a major record label than compiling 31 hard-to-find B-sides, outtakes, and other rarities. But it's hard to imagine Pearl Jam, whose decade-plus relationship with Epic Records ends with the release of this new double CD, choosing any of them. After all, since debuting in 1991 with the grunge watershed Ten, these hardy Seattleites have been celebrated variously as grassroots populists, hard-rock survivalists, and sort-of challengers to Ticketmaster's corporate live-music stranglehold. As the band decides where to go next -- possibly funding and distributing their own records, DIY-punk style, or striking different deals on different continents -- it's fitting that they give Best Buy shoppers access to material previously available only to record-collecting power brokers.
Especially since much of Lost Dogs is hardly worth any great pursuit. The unreleased "Hold On" is moan-and-drone PJ boilerplate, where a Wilson Phillips cover would've delighted; "Alive" B-side "Wash" is a jam-wank "Black"; "Dirty Frank" sadly apes the Red Hot Chili Peppers' anemic funk-rock.
But stuff like the 2000 outtake "Fatal" and the haunting seven-inch curio "Dead Man" (originally recorded for the soundtrack to Dead Man Walking) showcase the band's folk-punk side (as heard on last year's underappreciated Riot Act), and goofs like the surf cover "Gremmie Out of Control" counter the accepted notion that Eddie Vedder is incapable of laughter. And the hit cover to teen-melodrama oldie "Last Kiss" proves that even Pearl Jam can occasionally reach the mass audience for which it designed itself.
The result: Lost Dogs is an uneven flow of unearthed treasure and fool's gold.