Father, son, brother, and friend, Eddie Vedder is as guy-next-door as it gets, especially considering his standing as one of the world’s most recognizable rock stars. No longer the stage-climbing rock icon of the ’90s nor the petulant 20-something who tried almost single-handedly to take on Ticketmaster, Eddie Vedder’s latest solo project bridges his childhood with his fatherhood, his star status with his everyman. A period piece that echoes the dichotomy of the times, the third installment of Vedder’s solo catalog, Earthling, is a tale of love and loss that deals everything from hope to heartache and all points in between.
“Are you ready for a bit of Echo Victor?” queries Eddie Vedder as he invokes radio code and the NATO phonetic alphabet to refer to himself in the third person as the album lifts off with “Invincible”. Even as Echo Victor channels his inner Space Oddity, the song is stylistically more David Byrne than David Bowie. As he would mention onstage during The Earthling Tour’s opening night, Eddie—with no interest in competition—realized just a little too late that Bowie released an album of the same name in 1997.
Now there’s smoke on the horizon
And the clouds are looking violent
There’s a future in need of a frame
Compass spinning in my brain
With this simultaneously despondent yet hopeful track, Earthling’s tone is set from the outset as it leans far more toward the hard rock edginess more associated with Vedder’s grunge outfit Pearl Jam than to the somber folk Americana more analogous with his solo career. Never afraid to tell it as he sees it, Vedder is clearly worried in a global sense but in an endearing show of maturity, the 57-year-old attempts to move individuals with the power of his art as opposed to his younger self who attempted to mow down corporations with the force of his venom.
You are light…you are principle…
When you love…invincible…
Our shared light…indivisible…
Even as Earthling’s message establishes Vedder’s status as an everyman, its liner notes majestically confirm the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer as royalty, quite literally in fact considering both the duet with Elton John on “Painting” and the drum cameo from Ringo Starr on the Beatles-y “Mrs. Mills”. Then consider an appearance from Stevie Wonder (harmonica) on “Try” and producing/bass/guitar/percussion/background vocal credits for Grammy Award-winning Mr. Everything Andrew Watt (who also produced Ozzy Osbourne, Miley Cyrus, Post Malone, and Justin Bieber among many others) and one couldn’t be blamed for wondering whether this is a solo project or a supergroup.
Rounding out the all-star team are the Earthlings who accompany Vedder on a nine-show album tour through five cities: Chad Smith (drums, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Josh Klinghoffer (keys, guitar, vocals), both of whom also share in album credits, as well as Chris Chaney (Jane’s Addiction) and Glen Hansard, whose names can’t be found in the liner notes but who both join the band on tour along with the aforementioned Andrew Watt on guitar.
Earthling’s lead single “Long Way” is undeniably Tom Petty-esque, even more so considering another all-star credit on Hammond organ from Benmont Tench, founding member of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Though it comes across as more of a singalong rocker live, “Long Way” joins “The Haves” as not only lead singles but also as two of the album’s mellower tracks.
“Brother The Cloud”, the last of Earthling’s three singles, is a melancholy rocker. Though a seemingly obvious reference to Chris Mueller—Vedder’s half-brother who died in a 2016 climbing accident—“it’s about a few people,” Vedder exclaimed before playing the song live in Newark on February 6th. One of those is most certainly Vedder’s musical brother and Seattle grunge icon Chris Cornell who was lost to suicide in 2017, especially considering Vedder’s remarks on the topic of depression and suicide during a February 4th show at the Beacon Theatre and his interview with The New York Times on January 31st.
There’s no previous reference
For this level of pain
I can’t feign indifference
Can’t look away
The years they go by
The hurt I still hide
If I look okay, it’s just the outside
(If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). You can find a list of additional resources at SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources.)
Contributions from Eddie’s daughters, Olivia Vedder and Harper Vedder on background vocals, cement Vedder not just as everyman but more importantly as a family man, too. But in spite of the A-list collaborations that qualify for their own headlines, and even as we reconsider the duet with Sir Elton, the most chilling of all guest appearances on Earthling is the duet from beyond the grave with 1970’s singer Edward Louis Severson Jr., Eddie Vedder’s father, deceased for over 40 years, but very much Alive in the Present Tense.
I’ll be on my way…
Can you hear it’s Echo Victor?
(If you’re one of the few lucky enough to attend one of Earthling’s nine live shows, be sure to look out for this cameo over the PA as the band takes the stage.)
With lyrics that are at times warm and embracing—”oh don’t feel this alone or carry it on your own—and others downright scathing—”fuck the past or you’ll fuck your future”—Earthling is vintage Vedder. Never one to hold back, “Power Of Right”, “Good & Evil”, and “Rose Of Jericho” are the type of no-holds-barred statement songs that we’ve come to expect from the outspoken Eddie, while “Fallout Today” offers a lyrical hug of sorts, especially as we continue to navigate trying times.
Considered in the context of Gigaton, his most recent effort with Pearl Jam, Earthlings is a logical follow-up from the ’90s juggernaut’s chief songwriter, and with more than a little help from his (not so usual) friends, Earthling is a standout effort from the prolific Eddie Vedder.
Earthling is out on February 11th via Seattle Surf/Republic Records on all major platforms and is available here for pre-order. Eddie Vedder’s The Earthlings Tour continues through February 22nd when it wraps in Seattle, WA. For tickets and a full list of tour dates click here.