Can anyone top Eddie Vedder when it comes to fostering unlikely musical convergences that span generations, let alone being a key link between The Beatles and Ramones?That is – to invoke the title of an obscure 1997 Pearl Jam song – hard to imagine.In 2002, Vedder inducted the Ramones into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at a ceremony in the ballroom of New York’s ritzy Waldorf Astoria hotel. The Pearl Jam singer happily spent 17 minutes singing the pioneering punk-rock band’s praises to the sold-out audience, which included a large contingent of music-biz executives in tuxedos and evening gowns.
FOR GOOD measure, when Vedder and his new band, The Earthlings, performed a private show February 1 in Port Chester, New York – a warm-up for a six-city tour now underway – their setlist included The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” and the George Harrison solo song “Isn’t It a Pity.”The Port Chester gig also boasted versions of The Who’s “I’m One,” R.E.M.’s “Drive,” Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ “Room at the Top,” Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World,” Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” and nine songs from Earthling, which was released Friday by Republic Records.The album finds Vedder, who was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Pearl Jam in 2017, sounding mostly happy and content at the age of 57. He is understandably delighted to be rubbing shoulders on Earthling with such esteemed musical guests as Starr, Stevie Wonder and Elton John.Wonder is showcased playing harmonica on the uplifting “Try,” and his exuberant solo is the instrumental highlight of the album. Equally memorable is the rock-a-boogie-fueled “Picture,” which features John on piano and co-vocals on a song whose melancholic lyrics build on Jimmy Ruffin’s 1966 Motown Records gem, “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted.” Vedder’s teen daughters bring a welcome air of familial warmth to the album. Harper sings with her dad on the Tom Petty-styled “Long Way,” while Olivia joins him on “Try.”Earthling’s most deeply felt song, “Brother the Cloud,” was partly inspired by the 2017 mountain-climbing death of Vedder’s half-brother, Chris, who operated one of the spotlights at Pearl Jam’s 2013 concert in San Diego. Stylistically, the song suggests The Who, Talking Heads and Pearl Jam in almost equal measure. The fiercely rocking “Good and Evil,” more than any other song on the album, is the most evocative of Pearl Jam. On other parts of Earthling, attentive listeners may wonder if Vedder’s vocal phrasing was inspired in part by the 1980 debut album by Terence Trent D’Arby.
EARTHLING IS Vedder’s first solo album since 2011’s Ukulele Songs. It finds him proudly wearing his diverse musical influences on his sleeve, be it the quirky, “Once in a Lifetime”/David Byrne-like spoken asides in the introduction to the title track of Earthling, the Cat Stevens-ish lilt on the tender ballad “Fallout Today,” or the way the mood and tempo of “The Dark” bring to mind Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”Vedder and Springsteen discussed the Earthling album last week; it can be viewed on Vedder’s YouTube page. These musical homages seem carefully thought out. So does the brevity of Vedder’s tour with The Earthlings.Pearl Jam is hoping to reactivate soon for a tour that will enable the band to make up for most of its canceled 2020 Gigaton tour dates. The album was the band’s first since 2013. The band also hopes to soon reconvene for a new album with producer and songwriter Andrew Watt, who worked on Vedder’s new album and is a guitarist in The Earthlings.With and without Pearl Jam, Vedder’s fans are – to paraphrase another song by the now 32-year-old band – expecting him to fly once more. On the basis of Gigaton and Earthling, their expectations seem justified.