Sean Penn’s loping biopic of Christopher McCandless — the doomed, back-to-the-land college kid depicted in Jon Krakauer’s 1996 best-seller — is not the kind of movie to shill fast-food action figures. Fitting, then, that Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, the notoriously abstruse anti-corporate-rock frontman, finds his muse in Into the Wild’s atypical and highly personal quest.
There’s always been something vagabond about Vedder — a dusky world-weariness combined with the idealism of an earnest seeker. And a real sense of the wide-open road permeates these nine original compositions. On the haunting ”Rise,” he sings plaintively against a quiet, lilting strum, ”Gonna rise up/Find my direction magnetically,” and the effect is wanderlust personified. Some tracks, like ”Society,” are galvanizing, but also a little didactic — kind of like a zealous, well, back-to-the-land college kid. But then, Vedder’s never been a man for half-assed sentiments. Though the album is flawed (some tracks on the 33-minute disc are so brief that they never leave the ground), there is still something here that’s compelling enough to stand alone, even without its real-life inspiration. B