Though it was too often labeled a “comeback” album for the Seattle quintet – their last few records had been strong, if not commercially successful – Pearl Jam does represent the band’s most focused collection of songs since their early-‘90s superstardom.
Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder brings a full-bodied anger to politically outspoken ragers like “World Wide Suicide” that matches the fury Ten and Vs. used to bring to personal pain. Vedder has been attacking the Bush administration in lyrics and on stage for years now, but Pearl Jam is his most direct and devastating assault to date.
The longer they remain a band, the hard it becomes to classify precisely what sort of music Tool make. Not quite metal, not quite prog-rock, the band, led by Maynard James Keenan, seem to be inventing their own subgenre of anxiety-ridden, experimental songs that only gain in resonance the more you listen to them.
10,000 Days continues Keenan’s recent pursuit of extended, twisty arrangements, but he still can produce arresting hit songs like “The Pot,” a snarling diatribe against hypocritical religious figureheads.
White Stripes headman Jack White teams with songwriting buddy Brendan Benson for a side project that, unlike so many side projects, isn’t horrible. In fact, Broken Boy Soldiers gives White a chance to loosen up a bit, messing around with folk-rock and studio tricks, and the result is easily his most purely fun collection.
And Benson proves to be an interesting foil, writing about relationships with a warm melancholy that complements White’s more scathing approach. White shouldn’t quit his day job, but the Raconteurs sure make for a diverting time.
On their third album, this supergroup appear to be more at peace with the fact that they’re never going to be Soundgarden or Rage Against the Machine. Oh well, they'll just have to be happy being Audioslave, which shouldn't be a problem.
Where earlier albums might have been an occasionally awkward collision of the band members’ old groups, Revelations is simply a strong rock record made by guys who know how to do the job and don’t have to prove nuthin’ to nobody. And because it still features Tom Morello front and center, it’s an awesome guitar album, especially on his turntable-scratching solo for “Sound of a Gun.”
Ridiculously overstuffed, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ ninth record suffers from the same problem almost every double-album does: It’s way too long. But that doesn’t make it a disaster, either. Instead, the guys who used to think it was funny to go on stage just wearing socks have matured into a multi-dimensional band that are as comfortable working in funk and rock as they are pop and metal.
At first, the unwieldy ambition of Stadium Arcadium can become dizzying, but over time its myriad stylistic shifts start to become cohesive, resulting in one of those few albums you can enjoy no matter what mood you’re in at that moment.
Without an immediate “Are You Gonna Be My Girl?” hit on it, Jet’s second album got a bad rap as a sophomore-slump record. Ironically, Shine On is actually better than their debut, which sometimes was so indebted to classic rock that Jet felt like a tribute band.
Though they still love the Stones, this Australian group are becoming more comfortable in their own skin, especially on ballads like “Eleanor” and “Shine On.” Considering how hyped they were when they first came out, it’s funny that when the band finally started living up to all that buzz, most people had moved on.
Filter was an underrated band, the brainchild of former Nine Inch Nails musician Richard Patrick. This side project with the DeLeo brothers of Stone Temple Pilots can’t match his old band’s industrial rock, but it boasts a formative crunch in its own right.
Beyond its reliably tuneful collection of hard rock, what’s most striking about Army of Anyone is that it allows guitarist Dean DeLeo to stretch out in ways that STP never quite allowed him: On tracks like “Goodbye,” he makes a convincing case that he’s one of the ‘90s most overlooked musicians.
According to interviews, the making of Saturday Night Wrist was a difficult process for the California alt-metal band, but that behind-the-scenes agony seems to have paid off creatively. A palpable tension hangs over these 12 druggy, brooding songs, and the prevailing mood is one of unspeakable disillusionment.
Tracks like “Beware” and “Hole in the Earth” crawl through the muck as lead singer Chino Moreno bemoans treacherous friends and unhappy relationships. The world of the Deftones is not one you’d want to live in, but it’s a fascinating place to visit.
Fun-loving rock ‘n’ roll, take it or leave it, Buckcherry remain up to no good on 15, their third album. Aided by its sexy video, “Crazy B****” is a brazen celebration of girls-gone-wild naughtiness that rides its strip-club-worthy groove all the way to the bank.
The ballad “Sorry” showed that this Los Angeles group weren’t just about partying and chicks, but at a time when most rock bands strain to be sensitive, 15 was a welcome dive into good-time sleaziness.
Perhaps they still rely too much on the grunge traditions of their elders, but Breaking Benjamin continue to show promise on Phobia. Frontman Benjamin Burnley spills his guts about his heartbreaks and insecurities, and tracks like “The Diary of Jane” revel in the woe-is-me misery that comes after you’ve been dumped.
Producer David Bendeth heightens the songs’ melodrama, putting the guitars high in the mix so that they can soar above Burnley’s earthly worries. It’ll be interesting to see what sonic directions Burnley and his band take in the future – especially if he actually gets the girl for a change.