With Earthling, Eddie Vedder Becomes a Rock Elder

The Pearl Jam frontman's latest album veers from hard rock to Americana to bluegrass, but it doesn't always land

earthling review

How do grungers age?

There’s not really a blueprint. A genre — perhaps unfairly, though not without cause — typecast as maladjusted, gloomy, and self-destructive, many of the bands from the 1990s alternative boom opted to burn out, if not fade away, with many-a-frontmen checking out from the world altogether in the midst of their prime.

In 2022, with Kurt, Layne, and Chris gone, Pearl Jam stand alone as the last of grunge’s big four, and Eddie Vedder has been thrust — again — into the spotlight as the spokesman of a club all his own.

While not as tortured as Cobain, Vedder was never exactly a willing participant in punk rock’s mainstream moment. Though more musically accessible than Nirvana, Pearl Jam pushed back against fame in their own ways, from refusing to make music videos in the MTV era to engaging in a highly-publicized battle with Ticketmaster back when $20 seemed like too much for a rock show.

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But it’s not 1994 anymore, and rock is hardly the reigning musical genre. Vedder is no longer a young man slipping a petulant “fuck off” into his performances on Saturday Night Live, at once playing the fame game and raging against it. He’s become a rock elder.

What do you do when the dust settles? When you achieve unthinkable, suffocating fame for making angsty rock in your 20s, what kind of music do you make in your relatively quiet 50s?


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