"I will not lose my faith / It's an inside job today / Holding on, the light of the night / On my knees to rise and fix my broken soul"—from "Inside Job"

Pearl Jam should've been done a long time ago, alongside Nirvana, Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots, and other spawns of the '90s grunge-rock movement.

They're the last survivors of the Seattle-sound renaissance—they've weathered critically-panned albums, dwindling record sales, and the end of a 12-year partnership with Epic Records. But the group hung on for dear life. Heavy touring and a committed fan base kept them afloat, long after the general public stop caring about them.

Most of their audience jumped ship right around the time they released No Code (1996), their fourth album and first official foray into weirdness. They were already known for a few eccentricities—they had minimal interaction with the media, refused to make music videos, and boycotted Ticketmaster-endorsed venues.

But No Code was the group's biggest deviation from normality, as Pearl Jam's essence—namely, stadium-sized grunge anthems—was gone, and so was the rock, which became harder and harder to define as the band kept moving forward. There were elements of garage rock, experimentalism, Middle Eastern influences, and folk in their method, but the grunge became scarcer by the day.

Given this track record, no one expected a comeback like Pearl Jam, the band's eighth studio album and easily the most rocking thing they've done since 1994's Vitalogy. When Pearl Jam released last May, the mainstream press sang its praises, but not just for its brazen, unbridled display of rock 'n' roll bravado; they also hailed its thematic urgency, one that pays homage to a post-9/11 climate ...

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