An unusual pattern accompanies each new Pearl Jam release: After the band's 1991 debut Ten sold millions and redefined commercial grunge music, every successive Pearl Jam album has been overrated by critics, then underrated in hindsight. For example, 1996's surprisingly experimental No Code was hailed as a radical creative breakthrough (it wasn't), then dismissed as a wanky, self-important collection of songs that alienated the group's fan base (it wasn't nearly that bad, and its slow sales can be tied more to any number of marketing shortfalls). Now, with the new Yield being hailed as a return to anthemic rock-song form—the best since Ten, of course—where does it really fit in? Well, to a certain extent, it fits in as a return to anthemic rock-song form, thanks to consciously rough-around-the-edges production and arrangements built around little more than guitars, bass, drums, and Eddie Vedder's bleating, ragged holler. "Brain Of J" gets things started off right, with the sort of blaring intensity Pearl Jam loves to teasingly insert at the beginning of its tamest albums (remember "Go," from 1993's Vs.?). The rest, naturally, is a mixed bag, with radio-ready midtempo ballads ("Faithful," "Low Light," "In Hiding," the Led Zeppelin-derived single "Given To Fly") drowning out the din of the occasional raw rock song ("Do The Evolution," "MFC") and dopey piece of slow, self-serious shit (from "Wishlist: "I wish I was a neutron bomb / for once I could go off / I wish I was a sacrifice / but somehow I still lived on"). Like every Pearl Jam album, there's raucous good and self-indulgent bad sprinkled liberally throughout Yield; the only difference is the long-threatened, widely publicized onset of irrelevance. But there's no reason to believe that the album shouldn't be embraced by a public that's snapping up millions of Matchbox 20 records, and there's no evidence that Pearl Jam's bombastic rock will ever fall entirely out of fashion. Yield is nothing spectacular, but it doesn't hurt the band's prognosis at all.
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