It's been four years since Pearl Jam's last studio record - a length of time that suggests an epic album as a follow-up, maybe even a double. But as befits a band who've wrongfoooted many over the years, this self-titled opus turns out to be the exact opposite: surprisingly straightforward with perhaps the most accessible songs Pearl Jam have made since their MTV-dominating early days.
On initial listens, the quintet's decision to power this collection with no-frills rock may hit as something of a disappointment and nothing that they haven't done just as well previously. Yet the energy and five-in-a-room ambience will please many, reeling in newcomers and paving the way for reunions with those who lost track of the band. In a recent interview with Uncut magazine, guitarist Stone Gossard said that this album was one that Pearl Jam could play "top to bottom live", and that's where many of these songs will really come into their own - no doubt prompting listener reappraisals aplenty.
From opener 'Life Wasted' all the way through to the final 'Inside Job', those in thrall to guitar solos will find much to delight in. And while others will wish there were more slower and textured songs to add to 'Parachutes' and 'Come Back', 15 years in it's a tribute that a band can still release a record that sounds this hungry.
Steeped in classic rock but not a classic in itself, 'Pearl Jam' will still add to its creators' legacy. They are both hardened veterans and rookies flushed with enthusiasm here - and for both bands there is better to come.