Updated: Dec 26, 2022
Originally published in Stereo Embers Magazine
Gen-X-ers…shit’s getting weird.
Suddenly, without warning, milk is good for you again.
Wide-bottom jeans abound.
The occasional bucket hat is tolerated and selected shades of neon are recommended.
There’s a simmering nostalgia for Wilson Phillips and The Police actually seem pretty listenable.
Didn’t see either of those coming.
Another significant and confounding development I’ve recently observed in myself is something I can only describe as a musical apathy.
What in the actual fuck has happened?
Isn’t this right about the point where we should all be yelling at the kids about 1989 and to stay off our perfectly manicured lawns?
Where is all the anger? A Zack de la Rocha-esque intervention is needed, STAT.
The fruit these days is staggeringly low-hanging too, right? I mean, Machine Gun Kelly?!
Nothing? No anger…righteous or otherwise? I can’t even muster a goddamn predicate in resistance.
Are elephants flying astride gerbils wearing jetpacks?
Wait…The Cult is still cool, right? And those early Oasis records still sound great?
My bearings are all off.
Might this middle-age haze have something to do with why I can’t seem to stop spinning both Earthing by Eddie Vedder and Unlimited Love by Red Hot Chili Peppers?
I can’t tell anymore. Send help.
In the strange case of Edward Vedder’s Earthing, things are thankfully made pretty simple.
It’s a light record made with great dexterity, which SHOCKINGLY doesn’t take itself super seriously.
While deeply connected to Pearl Jam, I have never ever been an apologist. They’ve made some boring, trite, downright unlistenable albums. They’ve also been pretty fucking great at times and, much like an NFL quarterback, Edward gets more of the blame and credit for both sides of that coin.
He’s stumbled into solo albums before, emphasis on the stumble…
That Ukulele album is rough.
He’d not yet made a solo rock album until Earthling, and the reasons there seem potentially obvious.
That said, the organic process of hooking up with producer wunderkind Andrew Watt proved inspired here. Watt, known for a genre-defining, Motown (but in LA) live production style, is a lifelong Pearl Jam super-fanatic who is uniquely qualified to reflect back to Vedder the things we have always loved about him.
In true Motown fashion, working with Watt means you also get his “house” band – somewhat ironically including RHCP’s Chad Smith, Jane’s Addiction bassist Chris Chaney, and ex-RHCP’s/now Pearl Jam-mer Josh Klinghoffer. (The Earthling live shows also featured THE Glen Hansard as part of the band. Yup, I went – and it was as freakishly good as you’re imagining.)
Try and poke holes in that band line-up btw. I’ll wait.
Yes, there are also some other seismic cameos on this album (Elton John and Stevie Wonder), but it’s Watt and the band that really shine throughout.
“Long Way” isn’t just my favorite track on the record, it’s my favorite song this year by a long shot. It’s very obviously a love letter to Tom Petty and the other Heartbreakers, so much so that it even features Benmont Tench.
It’s really special to hear Edward so unfettered. He seems, dare I say it, to be having fun. There’s some skippers on this record to be sure…but only a couple.
Now Unlimited Love by the Chili Peppers is admittedly a tougher sell altogether.
Like Pearl Jam, we know all these guys (or think we do). Who could hate Flea?
BTW – There aren’t many bands left where each member is as uniquely known as in PJ and RHCP. For me, it’s always made it hard to root against either band. Good dudes, all around.
That said, so unceremoniously cutting Josh Klinghoffer from RHCP was unequivocally a dick move. It was Pearl Jam’s gain obviously, but still dickish.
I mean PJ now has 4 guitar players and you’re telling me that there wasn’t room for 2 in the Chili Peppers?
BUT – when John Frusciante wants back in your band, you clear the decks. He’s that guy and frankly, Unlimited Love is a pretty good document as to why.
RHCP have been around way, way too long for anyone to still be picking them apart for shitty lyrics and middling vocals. If that’s your issue with the band – this is a YOU problem.
We’ve never needed them to make any sense or for Anthony Keidis to sing on key. We’ve just needed them to be out there being themselves.
Which pretty much means lots of thumping…and zero shirts anywhere.
Rick Rubin is back in the producer’s chair…or lawn chair, in his case. It’s always hard to tell what he’s ever up to, but he tends to pull the deepest grooves out of RHCP. He certainly isn’t in charge of quality control and never has been. Their records are always far too long, often padded with garbally-goop.
Unlimited Love is no different, but it’s cool. Be calm, skip the nonsense and shake it to the good stuff.
The album itself sounds incredibly good – clearly recorded with vinyl in mind. Honestly, it’s just fun to hear these four guys making joyful noises together.
Again, here’s the Spotify playlist with my favs from both records and you can now proceed to give me shit for all my sins therein.