Picks and Pans Review: Binaural

updated 05/29/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/29/2000 01:00AM

Pearl Jam (Epic)

The music style known as grunge isn't as popular as it used to be. But that hasn't stopped Seattle's Pearl Jam, currently celebrating its 10th anniversary, from continuing to pursue—with burning passion—the genre it came to define in the 1990s. Binaural may be Pearl Jam's sixth studio album, but the group plays with as much intensity here as it did on its first.

Pearl Jam's not-so-secret weapon is charismatic front man Eddie Vedder, 35, who fires the band's roiling rock and roll stew with his smoldering baritone and introspective lyrics. There are plenty of rock singers trying to sound like him these days. But none manage to capture Vedder's rare mix of machismo and vulnerability. Backed by dueling guitarists Mike McCready and Stone Gossard, who effortlessly wheel out spidery, 1970s-style solos, Vedder imbues "Nothing as It Seems," the CD's mid-tempo first single, with a dark, burnished swagger reminiscent of the Doors' Jim Morrison. "Breaker-fall" struts forth with an arrogant bombast reminiscent of The Who in their prime.

But this is not, by any means, cutting edge. If anything, Pearl Jam's extended guitar jams and plodding earnestness sound a trifle quaint. But rock bands willing to put it on the line without relying on studio gimmickry or a flip attitude are in short supply. So if you're looking for modern rock in classic style, strap this one around your ears and turn up the volume.

Bottom Line: Originators of the Seattle sound go back to basics

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