If Pearl Jam once came across as a group of populist party-poopers who helped put a bar code on teen-age angst, these born-again progressives now seem bent on forsaking their riches for righteousness. With a new album of wild-eyed, off-the-cuff rockers with little commercial potential (including a temperamental attack on Dubya called "Bushleaguer"), Pearl Jam continues to sacrifice sales in order to gain consequence.
And the band does that from the onset of Riot Act. The clamorous, expletive-laced "Save Me" is as forceful an affirmation of modern rock's vitality as you're likely to hear this year. Combined with the drunken, surly blues of "Half Full" and the volcanic "Crop Duster," the result is Pearl Jam's most incendiary disc. Vedder has tempered his howling, choosing to bark at politicos instead of the moon. Blanketed in guitars as over-the-top as his wailing used to be, Vedder has never sounded better. Hell, his words even seem prophetic at times--especially on "Thumbing My Way," where, after receiving such a frosty reception from naysayers like us for much of his band's career, he sings, "No matter how cold the winter, there's the springtime ahead." Come, join these boys in the sun.