The buzz around Eddie Vedder’s new solo LP, Earthling, includes a lot of the usual jaded grunting. Reviews that seemed to launch far too early after the advance stream went out had flippant headlines designed for clicks, like one that dubbed him an “elder.” Even meant respectfully, it’s a strange word to apply to someone who’s sounding so prime and living so youthfully – whether he’s surfing or scaling rafters at festivals in 2021 like it’s 1992. Vedder’s not the only renowned rocker targeted by such ageism and quick judgment. It’s more annoying than usual, though, when it surrounds such a bang-up, lively, and meaningful solo record that is brimming with special details and guest appearances. So if it’s simply uncool to enjoy things, this is the uncool review – from a confessed Pearl Jam fan who is psyched about at least one facet of every Earthling track, of which there are thirteen. Guess who else is a superfan? Pearl Jam were the first love of Earthling’s producer, Andrew Watt, who has seen them over forty times. Vedder was using Watt’s studio to rehearse for a 2021 benefit concert when he played a few chord changes that got the two of them bouncing ideas around. As Vedder recalled, “[Andrew] said, ‘What are those chord changes?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ And he said, ‘But, you know, if you did this right after that…’ We started writing our first song without even trying. I stayed about three days based on that moment to finish that song, and then another one, and then another one that came.”
While exploring other instruments in the studio, Vedder worked out some ideas on synth and drums that ultimately became “Invincible” and “Power of Right,” Earthling’s first two tracks. The lyrics of Earthling, all written by Vedder, seemed to materialize with the same level of ease, delivered with pleasing warmth in his fast-shifting, dulcet-rugged timbre. And while others might have shown off major guest appearances more quickly, E.V. coolly places the epic collabs in a row of three tracks before the closer: “Try (featuring Stevie Wonder),” “Picture (with Elton John)” and “Mrs. Mills (featuring Ringo Starr).” Other Earthling album credits include daughter Olivia Vedder, drummer Chad Smith, keyboardist/guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, and even audio of Vedder’s late father, Edward Severson Jr., whose singing voice sounds remarkably familiar. Vedder’s solo touring ensemble, a backing band called The Earthlings, is made up of Glen Hansard on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Klinghoffer on guitar, keyboard and vocals, Smith on drums, Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction) on bass, and producer Watt on guitar. This surprise-filled LP is either the second or fourth album in Vedder’s sparse solo discography, depending on how you count the soundtracks – 2007’s Into the Wild, and 2021’s Flag Day (with Hansard and Cat Power) – plus 2011’s Ukulele Songs. We’re ecstatic he’s stayed busy with epic Pearl Jam LPs like 2013’s Lightning Bolt and 2020’s Gigaton, but it’s nonetheless swell to have this taste of solo E.V. brilliance documented. Earthling hits like a dose of unifying Vedder wit that’s been waiting to come out for a bit.
Many neat Earthling insights were revealed in a fun conversation between Eddie Vedder and Bruce Springsteen that can be streamed free here. In that chat, Vedder explains how the album title, Earthling, came out of seeing division, especially in the U.S., and seeking “the most inclusive thing you could think about…the overarching thing that combines us all.” It all opens with an astronaut-style intro in the uplifting “Invincible.” “Can you hear…? Are we clear…? Cleared for lift off… takeoff… For making reverberations… Are we affirmative…? No negatory… Come in, come in…” Encouraging love, there’s a movie soundtrack level of emotion and warmth to this celestial intro. It’s followed by “Power of Right,” one of Earthling‘s jammiest and hardest-hitting tracks. Well designed for clap-along participation, it has a gooey sweet filling that contrasts its often-dark lyrics, such as “She’s thinking ’bout cremation / Hands up in the air / Crying cocktail tears / No witnesses here / She thought the coast was clear.”
“Long Way” comes next, and while it was a bit of a mellow choice for a first single, given how much Earthling rocks, it has resonated with its introspective sound and driving theme. As the Boss noted in that livestreamed chat, the melody has a very Tom Petty sound, and Vedder confirmed he’d been influenced greatly by his late friend on “Long Way,” as evident in the song’s simple chords: G, C, D. Vedder even called up Benmont Tench of The Heartbreakers to play B3 Hammond organ, which was taken out of storage for the first time since the last show for “Long Way.” Check out the live Ohana Festival performance of “Long Way” here and order the 7” here. “Brother the Cloud” hearkens back to Pearl Jam’s “In Hiding” in how it builds and releases, and it includes some characteristically melancholy lines: “These are but dreams / As sad as it seems / I’m always wide awake.” Subsequently, in “Fallout Today,” Vedder soothes over beachy guitar sounds and urges, “Don’t make light of the weight / You’ll fortify its chains / Never beg for forgiveness / It’s a gift to shake and shake the pain / Shake the pain.”
With a fast and sunny sound that makes “The Dark” a deceptive title, Vedder sings, “I didn’t mean to up & scare ya / I came home to open up” – showing his knack for telling stories with short bare-bones stanzas. “The Haves” is a master class in love songs, with heartstring-tuggers like this relatable feeling: “All those years ago / When we could have met / So hard / Oh, hard not to regret / But I know we got / A lot of life / Life to live yet.” A fearlessly saccharine love song dedicated to his wife, Jill, “The Haves” came to be when Vedder went for a bike ride down the Santa Monica boardwalk. As he told Springsteen, “When I got to Venice, it was the most intense homeless tent situation. And I’d spent a lot of time in Venice before, but the deeper I went in, it just kept growing and growing. And I saw people in really bad shape, not being healthy. And then there was a couple that came out of a small tent and they looked pretty beat up. They might have been my age, but they looked twenty years older. But they got out of the tent and then they held hands, and then they gave each other a kiss and went walking down the beach, and that’s kind of what got me thinking.” The thrashier listeners are then rewarded for their patience through all the romance when Vedder rips into “Good and Evil,” another guitar-driven Earthling track that’s hard-edged and jammy. Kickstarting with eerie dissonant cords and an aura of punk energy, there are even some “Glorified G” vibes when Vedder sneers, “Do your rich accommodations / Numb you to what you believe? / Oh, for the love of a gun / You’re like a bullet aimed to deceive.”
“Rose of Jericho” has that driving energy and pure-Vedder poetry – “Stuck at a bus stop, reading H. D. Thoreau / The smell of asphalt makes it hard to swallow” – that makes it feel like a PJ deep cut. Chad Smith sounds extra crisp throughout this drum-laden blast of a jam. This is where the string of special guests begins, and it’s a groovy three-track ride. Bright punk banger “Try,” which features background vocals from Eddie’s daughter, Olivia Vedder, also comes with a funny backstory about guest Stevie Wonder, who Vedder called “the best singing drummer, and the best everything.” Vedder and Watt reportedly waited for six hours before Wonder arrived to the studio, prompting Vedder to share, “In between, we wrote a song, and it’s gonna be a Pearl Jam song, and right now the working title is ‘Waiting for Stevie.’” Wonder launched right into his harmonica solo before he’d heard the whole track. “We had this theory that we’d get him playing on the fastest song he’s ever played on – something we’d never heard before,” said Vedder. “Who could imagine that? We kind of knelt in front of him and played acoustics to show him how the song went. He didn’t even flinch when he heard the tempo. It was an amazing thing to witness.”
“Picture” brings us an awesome duet with Elton John and some striking Vedder imagery too – like “Strangers, they walk past with eyes of one-way glass / Thinking what’s hidden will someday pass.” The two audibly enjoy the collaboration in this retro, piano-driven dance-demander. We love to see this E&E teamwork continue, after Eddie Vedder appeared on Elton John’s record last year, on the song “E-Ticket.” After that bash, the classic Beatlesque sound of “Mrs. Mills” may ring a bell even before you find out a Beatle played on the standout track. As Vedder tweeted, “The ride cymbal in Mrs. Mills is the same cymbal you’ll hear on any Beatles’ record because Ringo Starr plays the drums on this song.” The lilting Penny Lane-y tune is based upon the “Lady Madonna” piano at Abbey Road known as Mrs. Mills, which was named after Gladys Mills. Vedder noted that even Sir Paul McCartney has been turned down on purchasing this piano, and its long history of notable players inspired this song.
Earthling’s finale, “On My Way,” causes chills given the special guest woven into this audio collage: Eddie Vedder’s late father, Edward Severson Jr. It’s stunning to hear his father’s voice posthumously, especially if you’re attuned to Vedder’s unique vocal qualities. As Vedder explained, “About 10 years ago, the Chicago Cubs, some of their old timers get together and play baseball for about a week, and I would go down there every other year and hang with these guys, learn about the game more so I can teach my kids more, you know, I coach baseball. One of the ex-players, this erudite badass trumpeter, who used to play third base, his name is Carmen Fanzone. He also became head of the Musicians Union in Los Angeles – an incredibly cool individual. I saw Carmen playing the horn in a little club in Arizona, and this guy playing keyboards with him had been best friends with my dad. Two years later, he brought me some photos of them in little basement studios. Then a couple years after that, he brought me five songs of my dad singing, on a disc. I carried that disc around for two, three months in my suitcase, not ready to hear it. Finally, I got the guts, and after a couple bottles of wine, played it one night in Argentina. And he was good. It was incredible – like he left a message for me.” Noting how he’d teamed up with Ringo Starr, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder, Vedder remarked, “my pop gets to be on a record with those guys, which is not too shabby.”
“We were still in semi lockdown, so people were energized to create,” shared Vedder. “I was inspired to write quick. Everything was sounding great, and his ability to mix and have everything be loud… It was just a new adventure, and it was inspiring.” We’ll have to be patient for some of Earthling’s physical media as “Due to supply chain issues, the shipping date for Earthling vinyl LP, deluxe CD, and cassette will now be July 29th, 2022. The regular CD is available for purchase wherever music is sold.” In the meantime, you can stream Earthling here, and “Long Way,” and “The Haves” are also available as separate 7-inch Ten Club releases. Related Vedder goodness: the “intimate storytelling performance,” I Am Mine, is available on Audible. In this edition of their Words + Music series, “Vedder dives deep, reflecting on a life at the intersection of art, sensitivity, and masculinity. Vedder is characteristically honest about the challenges of remaining authentic in the face of staggering success. He delivers a raw, emotional story on the perils and joys of fame and friendship, punctuated with an exclusive music performance featuring new renditions of classic tracks from both Vedder and Pearl Jam.” You can also check out upcoming tour dates for both Eddie & Pearl Jam here.
Article: Olivia Isenhart