Pearl Jam: Lost Dogs

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Pearl Jam

Album: Lost Dogs
Label: Epic

In lieu of a greatest-hits album (though one seems inevitable), once-mighty, oft-misunderstood grunge pioneer Pearl Jam ends its lifelong major-label relationship with Lost Dogs, a hit-and-miss pack of songs that didn't make it onto the group's seven albums. To Pearl Jam's credit, the set isn't filled with redundant live or demo versions: It comprises 31 fully fleshed-out studio songs, some previously released as B-sides, but many appearing for the first time. (A fair amount of uncollected material is missing, including the almost-hit "State Of Love And Trust" from the Singles soundtrack and the two-track Merkinball disc, which featured booster Neil Young.) Unsurprisingly, nothing on Lost Dogs' two discs sounds like a potential smash, though one song ("Last Kiss," an obscure '60s cover recorded for a Christmas single) did give Pearl Jam its last real radio hit. Lost Dogs mostly sounds like a Pearl Jam album with no breakout singles–which, come to think of it, makes it sound like Pearl Jam's last few albums. Outtakes from 1993's Vs. ("Hard To Imagine") and 1996's solid-but-overlooked No Code ("All Night") deserve more attention, as do loose, fun tracks like "Leavin' Here" (a Holland/Dozier/Holland track made known by The Who) and "Bee Girl," an off-the-cuff homage to a Blind Melon video. Unlisted and tucked away after the last track is "4/20/02," a stripped-down tribute to late Alice In Chains singer Layne Staley; like much of Pearl Jam's catalog, it dances around both refreshing sincerity and ham-handedness. Hand-in-hand with those finer moments go some real dogs. Bassist Jeff Ament offers the ridiculous "Sweet Lew," about his disappointment at meeting Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; the song is only slightly worse than "Whale Song," the contribution from former drummer Jack Irons, which is about... whales. Somewhere in between lies the collection's strength, a conveniently collected field of solid Pearl Jam songs. Lost Dogs bats a solid .500, and such a high percentage of strong material from a dozen years of also-rans makes for a pretty good record.