If you’re familiar with Eddie Vedder’s solo albums then a dynamic rock record isn’t something you’d expect from the famed Pearl Jam frontman. While he might have been a trailblazer for Seattle’s grunge scene in the 90s, most of Vedder’s solo work has geared towards the softer side of rock music like on his Golden Globe winning Into The Wild soundtrack or 2011’s Ukulele Songs. Typically the heavier material is saved for his Pearl Jam bandmates, until 2021 when a group of unlikely songwriters from the rock community got together to create Vedder’s third solo album Earthling, out today via Seattle Surf/Republic Records.
The album sees Vedder join forces with rising Hollywood mega-producer Andrew Watt (Miley Cyrus, Ozzy Osbourne, Justin Bieber), Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers and former Chili Pepper guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer. The group created an album with an abundance of blazing riffs and mighty guitar solos yet it differs enough not to be considered Pearl Jam 2.0.
Sonically, the overall narrative of Earthling is fairly light-hearted but in typical Eddie Vedder fashion there’s an emotional depth so great to these songs, it’s easy to miss during your first listen. While themes of perseverance and goodwill can be heard on tracks like “Invincible” and “Long Way,” the album’s true emotional peak hits during “Brother the Cloud.”
Although not confirmed, the lyrically somber yet upbeat track seems to reference both Vedder’s younger brother Chris, who he lost in 2016 and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, who died by suicide in 2017. The two pioneers of grunge rock went back nearly 40 years and first met in 1990 shortly after Vedder moved to Seattle to join Pearl Jam. Their bond was undeniable to the rock community and to see Vedder so blatantly write about his continued grief is something we don’t typically see from the notoriously private lyricist.
Bringing the album out of the emotional depths of self reflection, is the impressive group of legendary collaborators Vedder enlisted to guest star on Earthling. Whether it’s Stevie Wonder tearing into a harmonica solo on the surf-punk-inspired “Try,” or Elton John’s dance-worthy piano parts during “Picture,” the album has no shortage of musical greats. Ringo Starr lends a hand to the Beatles-esq inspired track “Mrs. Mills,” which pays homage to a 1905 Steinway piano housed in the basement of Abbey Road Studios. The famed piano is still used during recording sessions today and can be heard on Beatles classics like “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Penny Lane.”
The last and most important musical guest featured on Earthling is none other than the man for whom Vedder was named; Edward Severson Jr. For those unfamiliar with Pearl Jam history, Vedder spent the majority of his childhood believing his step-dad was his biological father. It wasn’t until Vedder was in his adolescence when he learned his real dad was in fact Severson, a man he believed to be a family friend and only met a few times as a child. When Vedder learned the truth later in life, Severson had already died of multiple sclerosis which inspired Pearl Jam’s biggest hit, “Alive.”
It was a few years ago when Vedder received a recording of his father, an amateur vocalist himself, singing at a club in Chicago before he died. Thanks to the power of modern day recording technology, co-writer Andrew Watt was able to loop his father’s vocal track and allow Vedder to harmonize with his dad on the album’s final track, “On My Way.” The vocal similarities between Vedder and Severson are hauntingly beautiful, and the final result is a duet featuring two vocal tracks that could have easily been recorded days apart and not decades. Between his father’s posthumous contributions and daughters Harper and Olivia Vedder providing backing vocals, Earthling showcases three generations of the Vedder family coming together for the sake of rock n’ roll.
It’s the perfect conclusion to an already next-to-perfect album. Take away the legendary lineup of musicians featured throughout Earthling and you’re left with a powerful rock record that drips with emotional honesty and integrity. The biggest surprise might be the unlikely partnership between Vedder, Klinghoffer and Watt. There’s almost thirty years between the three songwriters and yet their musical camaraderie is evident throughout every track. What’s even more impressive is that both Klinghoffer and Watt grew up idolizing Pearl Jam as kids. But then again, who didn’t?