Spin Control

September 23, 2007

BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC

FOLK-ROCK:
Eddie Vedder, "Into the Wild" (J Records)
For his first solo album after 17 years fronting Pearl Jam, Evanston native Eddie Vedder was tapped by his pal, director Sean Penn, to provide the soundtrack for the new film "Into the Wild," based on Jon Krakauer's 1996 bestseller about a 24-year-old existentialist inspired by Tolstoy, Thoreau and Jack London to drop out of society and live off the land -- with tragic results. The hero is exactly the sort of romantic idealist Vedder has always admired and sometimes resembled, and in filling Penn's request for music to provide the "interior voice of the character," the singer has risen to the occasion with a low-key but endearing set of nine folksy originals and two well-chosen covers.

With mostly acoustic instrumentation, heavy on banjo and mandolin paired with understated percussion and droning organ, the focus naturally falls on Vedder's always-robust vocals. That's fine, since his voice is also the standout instrument in Pearl Jam -- unless you unduly focus on the lyrics, which are so earnestly poetic that they're sometimes laughable.

"When you want more than you have, you think you need / And when you think more than you want, your thoughts begin to bleed / I think I need to find a bigger place / When you have more than you think, you need more space," Vedder sings in "The Wolf," which makes me want to howl in protest.

By far the standout track is "Hard Sun," written by Gordon Peterson of the band Indio.

Pearl Jam fans will recognize and embrace echoes of that band's quieter moments, though more than anything, "Into the Wild" evokes the solo album that R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe has been promising for years but has yet to deliver. It's a promising debut for a solo career that seems likely to continue.

INDIE ROCK:

The Go! Team, "Proof of Youth" (Sub Pop)
"Are you ready for more?" Ninja asks us over one of studio wizard Ian Parton's typically dense and chaotic grooves on the second album by Brighton's Go! Team, and you can't help but answer, "Heck, yeah!"

That song, "Titanic Vandalism," incorporates a sample of "Pscha-Soula-Funkadelic" by the Politicians, a kicking four-piece horn section and Ninja's chanted cheerleader vocals, among many other elements -- so many, in fact, that it threatens to turn into a white-noise collage like a vintage Bomb Squad production for Public Enemy. But the energy is so high throughout these 11 tracks -- and the Jackson Five playground hooks that jump out of Parton's busy mixes are so memorable -- you can't help but fall in love with this one-man bedroom band turned indie-rock group all over again.

The formula may not have changed much since the Go! Team's 2005 debut, "Thunder, Lightning, Strike." But with songs as strong as "Grip Like a Vice," "Patricia's Moving Picture" and "My World" (a pretty acoustic detour, and a welcome respite), "Proof of Youth" plays less like a repeat than an inspired continuation of a sound that still seems thoroughly fresh and absolutely irresistible.

R&B:

Jill Scott, "The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3" (Hidden Beach)
While Philadelphia's Jill Scott continues to have one of the most powerful voices -- as well as the most appealing personality -- of any performer in the so-called neo-soul or natural R&B movement, her third studio album holds fewer surprises than fans might hope for a career seven years on from her 2000 debut, "Who Is Jill Scott? Words & Sounds Vol. 1," which scored an impressive total of four Grammy nominations and 2.4 million albums sold.

"Everything that goes on in my life goes into the music," the soul-searching artist recently told Billboard. But given that she recently weathered a divorce, you'd think there would be more of an edge to "The Real Thing," a la the album's best track. Driven by a kicking up-tempo groove laced with horns and showcasing one of Scott's most passionate vocals, "Hate on Me" takes aim at all of those who are jealous of her accomplishments. "No matter where I live / Despite the things I give / You'll always be this way," Scott wails. "So go 'head and hate on me hater/'Cuz my mind is free."

Unfortunately, the other 14 tracks lack that kind of fire, reverting to the quieter, jazz-inflected quiet storm sounds of her first album. And this time around, it all seems a bit shopworn, and sometimes downright sleepy.

 

 

 

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