Eddie Vedder Earthling Album Review
During a crippling pandemic that left most band’s future prospects in limbo without access to their biggest financial earnings, touring, most acts have taken the time to find creative ways to reach their audience. As many other artists did in 2020 and 2021, Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder went into the recording studio solo for the first time since releasing a record entirely of Ukulele songs back in 2011. It would be a different effort for his third time around. Instead of the focus being directed on his solo accomplishments, Vedder invited his friends and heroes on board to collaborate.
It may say ‘Eddie Vedder’ directly on the record cover art’s spotlighted section, but adjacent to it sits the album name: Earthling. Earthling here has a double meaning. It’s not just a title, but it’s turned into the name of this super group that Vedder has created for the occasion. Current and former Red Hot Chili Peppers members, Chad Smith and Josh Klinghoffer, are heavily featured on this record, as is the album’s Grammy winning producer, Andrew Watt. But along with the core group that solidifies this team, we also have a who’s who of guest appearances that would be newsworthy in any music era. Names such as Ringo Starr, Elton John, Stevie Wonder and former Heartbreaker, Benmont Tench, all get to display their critically acclaimed talents on the same production. But possibly more important than this cavalcade of stars is the appearance of Vedder’s daughters, Olivia and Harper, to provide backing vocals.
The record is not only Vedder’s chance to celebrate making music with his friends and idols, but it’s also his tribute to the artists that have made him the musician who he is. From this record, you get shades of legends such as Peter Gabriel, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, R.E.M., The Beatles and The Clash mixed in throughout. But the most important tribute may be left until the very end when Vedder summons the voice of his father, who was the subject of many early Pearl Jam songs. There is a lot to unpack on this 13-song LP, so let’s dig in to find out what makes Earthling such a special record.
Eddie Vedder Earthling Review Track-By-Track
The album begins with a light twinkle of guitar plucking under Vedder directing a message seemingly up into the stratosphere. Who he is attempting to contact is unclear, but his recitation of NATO-phonetic phrases, addressing himself as Echo Victor and asking the being he’s attempting to contact if they are Oscar Kilo, is followed up with a powerful message that simply states, we are Invincible when we love.
The clear Peter Gabriel influences from Red Rain are apparent as he’s using the album’s introduction to spread a clear message of positivity, setting the tone nicely for a record where love is its central theme. Invincible opens up the vortex that’s made to communicate with whomever Vedder is attempting to contact, but he’s going to need 11 more songs before he receives a response
2) Power of Right
This is followed up by the crunchy riff that leads you into Power of Right, a song who’s central character makes a litany of mistakes that lead to a desperate attempt to escape conflict that he won’t adhere to. It feels in some small way that Vedder is attempting to tell stories about bits and pieces of what he’s witnessed and experienced in his life’s journey as a way to summon the ghost. This song would’ve fit in comfortably on any of Pearl Jam’s late era records, it has enough of an edge to give it a gritty foundation focusing less on emotion and more towards dictating his story.
3) Long Way
The album’s first single, Long Way, is a clear tribute to one of Vedder’s friends and role models, Tom Petty. To join him on the track is one of Petty’s running buddies, Benmont Tench, who’s featured on a plethora of the Heartbreakers most beloved tracks. Also joining him is the youngest Vedder daughter, Harper, providing the background vocals. The song, which feels like a cocktail mix of Into The Great Wide Open, Free Falling, and Refugee, takes you on a journey in which loss and regret is always finding its way back to you.
No matter how far the distance to travel, no matter the situation you currently find yourself in, you’ll always find your way back to where it all went wrong. The book is written, you are incapable of finishing the story to find your answer. This message that Vedder sends into the ether during Invincible, is he potentially sharing a story in which the recipient once lived through?
4) Brother The Cloud
Brother The Cloud is another attempt at Vedder tackling loss. The deeply emotional track is invested in a close relationship following the character’s, presumably Vedder, complication and coming to terms with the death of a close companion. He expresses the pain and hopelessness one feels when a chunk of their being is now missing. It’s a common human instinct to react as such. No amount of prayer or hope can change the outcome, and attempts to cope with the insurmountable pain feel futile. But part of life is experiencing death.
Similar to Long Way, this pain will follow Vedder for the extension of his existence. While it never truly goes away, there’s always an outlet to express the sadness. This song’s range of emotion is a perfect example of using sorrow and anger to cope with something you can’t control.
5) Fallout Today
Fallout Today takes us on a journey to Athens, the complete opposite side of the country in contrast to Seattle. While Seattle music has been fixated on heavy distortion and growling vocals, down in Georgia is where the forefathers of Alternative rock, R.E.M. created a catalog of catchy choruses with inspiring sounds from instruments such as a mandolin and an organ. After two songs where the subject matter takes a bit of a turn, the mood is back to being approachable and upbeat. This song tells a story about a girl who’s in a bad mental state, needing to dig herself out of the darkness in order to find a light.
A theme that was potentially exacerbated by the recent pandemic, the track is meant to be a therapeutic answer for someone in a bad place, offering a hand to help guide her to where the brightness resides. Another song that takes the human element and presents it in a relatable fashion. An expression of life, expression of hope, and the smooth, relaxing cadence takes you to a place that’s opened up to your comfort zone.
6) In The Dark
What seems lifted directly from a montage of an 80s movie, In The Dark is a throwback to a sound and era of music that has seemingly been locked in a time capsule. Not unlike Fallout Today, Vedder seems to be coming to the rescue of the character in question, taking the necessary steps to lend a helping hand to pull them out.
With a polished production and a solo befitting of any arena rock act from 40 or 50 years ago, this song has its own soaring aspect that develops under Vedder’s baritone resonance. The vocals very much reflect the style of Springsteen, yet another friend and long-time idol of Ed’s. Again, it’s continuing the theme of how being motivated by love can lift anyone back on their feet. The message is still developing, but we still have more to deliver through that vortex.
7) The Haves
Possibly the defining moment of this record’s theme of spreading love throughout the masses comes with The Haves. Originally written after witnessing a homeless couple holding hands in Venice Beach, Vedder digs deep into love being the strength of any relationship. While the able-bodied people of this planet who have amassed a financial comfort level in order to not just feed and shelter their loved ones, but add excessive amenities into their life – expensive cars, elaborate vacations and hefty trust funds – the people who are less fortunate need to rely on one another for comfort, care and trust to get by.
This is a simple story of unconditional love. No matter the scenario, no matter where life finds you, if you hold onto each other you’ll be able to get through the roughest and darkest of times together. There’s nothing superficial about it. Support your loved one through every journey traveled together. The message being sent to the stars is Vedder’s outlook on life, what he has found for himself and prides over every inconsequential matter. As if an alien asked for an explanation of what life on Earth is meant for, this is the most straightforward answer.
8) Good and Evil
Our introduction to the punk rock section of the album begins with the sounds of a ukelin, a string instrument constructed in the 1920’s that’s tuned to C major and is limited in functionality. As a follow up to The Haves which focuses on the story of the less fortunate, Good and Evil takes the opposite approach and is meant to lambast those who take advantage of greed as their self-fulfilling prophecy. This seems to be aimed at superficial billionaires who will deceive the hard working American and squeeze them for every penny they have in order to add to their ever exceeding wealth and power.
It’s revealed that the song is about a woman who has absolutely no remorse for the trail left in her wake and uses a hunting metaphor in order to present that she will kill anything to attain the luxuries she desires. The song is fast paced with an emphasis on the gritty, downtuned guitar noise, almost painting the picture of a horror movie where the villainess progressively discovers more and more of her evil side and thrives off of it. The story sent through the vortex is meant to display that with all of the good in this world that may have been presented in previous songs, the evil is a cloud hanging over us all that thwarts our attempts of happiness in order to fuel for more power.
9) Rose of Jericho
While the exact definition of what a Rose of Jericho is is unclear, the song has a direction similar to the themes presented on Pearl Jam’s 2020 album Gigaton. Vedder has always expressed his dismay for climate change denial and has been an environmental activist long before we were introduced to him in the early 90s.
The song’s introduction can be seen as a reflection of how we as a society treat our world. Almost like a scene out of WALL-E where the garbage collecting robot finds the one sample of lifeform needed in order to restore the world. The Rose of Jericho can be seen in the same way. You can cut down all the trees in the forest, pave over every last trace of plant life, and watch the world continue to suffer from drastic heat spells. But while all of these anti-environmental functions created by man pushes our progress back generations, there will still be seeds to plant.
There will still be restoration to our planet and continuing to feed the Rose of Jericho is our way of resistance. To fight for mother Earth who, if the regression persists, will get her vengeance by the way of melting the polar ice caps and creating more natural disasters. The message here is to love the world you live in, because we don’t have another to inhabit.
Rounding out the punk rock section is the song Try. Backboned by Stevie Wonder’s soul melting harmonica solos and Vedder’s daughter Olivia screaming the count-in, this exciting, feel good song brings so much depth to the latter part of the record. While the highlight here is clearly Stevie’s unbelievable talents, the song has a heartwarming message coming directly from the narration of Vedder. He’s vulnerable enough to show that he isn’t a perfect person, he’s prone to mistakes just like any normal human being.
But what the song suggests is that Vedder can address his faults, accept them, and take that knowledge to better himself. The scenario he lays out can clearly be attributed to his relationship with his wife Jill, and like any marriage, it presents the challenges within communication issues that most married couples work their way through.
But again, Ed is aware and wants to put the efforts in to make amends for his struggles. With the knowledge that his relationship won’t end due to one confrontation, he still goes out of his way to work at bettering himself so these confrontations aren’t a more frequent occurrence. It’s better to forgive than to become increasingly more distant.
In the middle of our special guest section of the album, it’s Elton John’s turn to make a cameo for the ragtime inspired track Picture. This bouncy pop song takes a look into a relationship and assesses how current challenges can drag you down, but with the reminder of the love that was once developed is still the love you feel today. As we saw earlier in the record, this story can be easily attached as a follow up to Try.
Every now and again you need reminders of what made your relationship special. Going back and reliving the memories shared through photographs can be seen as a constant reminder of no matter how low life may be, just like in The Haves, all you need is each other to get by. It’s not an uncommon topic for this album – love conquers all. The message needs to be incessantly repeated. As this message is dispatched through the cosmos, we have almost reached our destination.
12) Mrs. Mills
A fitting way to finish the first 12 tracks on the record is the clear Beatles homage in Mrs. Mills. It’s a Beatles homage not only because there’s an actual Beatle, Ringo Starr, performing on the track, but it takes bits and pieces from so many beloved songs by the Fab Four as the perfect mash-up.
A little bit of Hey Jude in the drumming style and vocal tracks (even a transitional spot on piano where it has the same melody as Hey Jude), Here, There and Everywhere in the piano, and even the trumpets can be traced back to everything from Sgt. Peppers to Penny Lane and All You Need Is Love. The story of Mrs. Mills either being a woman or an upright piano is humorous, but takes a clear back seat to all of the work that Vedder did to honor one of his, and almost every living musician’s, songwriting inspiration. While that message is now about to be received, I think Vedder wanted to show the recipient everything he was capable of.
13) On My Way
The call for an answer might’ve taken 45 minutes to be received, but now Vedder is finally getting back a return message from his birth father, one Echo Sierra. An entity whose story has been told throughout the world of Pearl Jam, but only through Vedder’s aggressive connotations. We hear a voice fade up from the distance resonating. “I’ll be on my way…” sung with the same candor heard in theme songs for old western films. It seems as though the tin can phone to the cosmos is connected for a brief moment. Ed responds with a reprise from an earlier song in the album, “took the long way…”. And for the first time since Ed has known who his biological father was, they are finally connected.
It may have taken 57 years to set up the arrangements, meaning they both took the long way. It was the passion of Ed’s life that needed to be the guiding force to connect the two – music. Luckily for him, it’s discovered that Edward Severson II shares the same exact passion. They have a moment together as father and son until the elder Ed faded back into the cosmos until the day he receives the next message.
Whether it was intentional or not, this 32-year story has finally come full circle. The first message was sent on a windowsill as Ed waited up in the dark just to hear a voice. Some of the torturous moments through the years where Ed begged and pleaded not to go on him, signaled his final exit from relevance and through the times so low where swallowing poison was an option, while this was being sung to the millions who purchased his records and lived and died by his art, these were other messages he was sending to his father. As he got older, he matured. He started to live in the present tense, he discovered how precious life was after witnessing a major tragedy in front of his own two eyes and sang a montra about being true to yourself when life has become so fragile.
Closing Thoughts on Eddie Vedder’s Earthling
After listening to Earthling, the proof is there that his father was listening the entire time. Invincible might have opened the vortex of communication, the stories were molded to be so personal to who he is in order to keep the pathway open, and then at the perfect time, they unite. If this is the last piece of music that Eddie Vedder ever constructs, then he has finally made peace with his art.