WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Pearl Jam blasted out their forthcoming album to a few hundred family, friends, industry insiders and reporters last week, and the tracks showed they are doing anything but mellowing with age.
Singer Eddie Vedder, 59, lead guitarist Mike McCready, 57 and bassist Jeff Ament, 60, played the record for the first time for invited guests at the Troubadour, the legendary Los Angeles-area club where Elton John and many other Rock & Roll Hall of Famers first made their names.
The Republic Records release will be the 12th studio album and first since 2020’s “Gigaton” for the saints of the 1990s Seattle scene, who have been plying their trade together for more than three decades.
“You all get together as a group as we’ve been doing for 30-plus years and you say, ‘Let’s try it again,’ ” Vedder said from the stage as he introduced the album. “No hyperbole, I think this is our best work.”
The title of the record and its songs, recorded by producer Andrew Watt at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La studio in Malibu, Calif., are not yet being made public, nor is the date it drops. But musically, it’s ready for release.
“We made this record like a year ago,” Ament told the audience. “We’ve been sitting on it.”
“Gigaton” surprised many fans and critics with how hard-rocking it was. The new one goes even harder. It’s almost athletic in its speed, aggression, and tenacity, sounding like it would make men of their age sore in the aftermath.
While Vedder remains the face and voice of the band, the star of this album is drummer Matt Cameron, who joined the Jam in 1998 after starting out with Soundgarden.
His relentless pounding opens many of the 11 tracks, and drowns out his bandmates’ playing and Vedder’s vocals at times.
“It’s one of the greatest drum records we’ve ever made,” Vedder said to cheers from a crowd that included Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith. “Matt Cameron is just playing out of his skull, especially seeing as how it’s our last record.”
Vedder struggled to hide that he was (probably) joking as he said that last part, to laughs and boos.
The lyrics to the new songs are often dark and bleak, especially at the album’s start, but at it goes on the determined hopefulness that has been central to the band from the beginning shines through.
The alcohol flowed freely at the afternoon event, including a mass tequila-shot toast. It was strategic. Vedder said he has been softening his aging friends with booze to prepare them to listen to kind of loud tunes they may no longer be used to.
“Every time I’ve played someone the record it was like a two-day recovery,” Vedder said.
The band members credited Watt, who was less than a year old when their first album “Ten” was released in 1991, for lifting them to the heights they hit.
“He’s a force,” bassist Ament said.
Watt is a Pearl Jam super fan (he wore a band basketball jersey Wednesday) who brought to the project what Ament called an “encyclopedic” knowledge of their musical history that is more detailed and deep than the members’ own memories.
A Grammy winner for 2021 producer of the year, Watt has worked with the Rolling Stones, Post Malone, Miley Cyrus and Vedder on his 2022 solo album “Earthling.”
McCready said the Troubadour stage took him back. He played there with his metal band Shadow in 1987, when the Sunset Strip outside was the teased-hair capital of the world, and his solos on the new record are metallic in their speed and ferocity.
Vedder compared the current process of making a record together to surfer Kelly Slater’s attempt to create the perfect wave far from the ocean, but instead of water, the group was trying to make something of “an anxiousness, an anger, a sadness, a joy, a regret.”
The band acknowledged that it was surreal to stand there and listen to a recording as audience members bobbed their heads in front of an empty stage.
“It’s an unusual situation,” Vedder said.
But the afternoon was emotional anyway. Ament nearly got choked up as he talked about coming so far together.
“I couldn’t be prouder of us as a band at this point,” he said. “I feel grateful.”