(This blog was originally written on Myspace)
I’m never going to be able to give an impartial review of these guys, I love them too much. On friday, though, I got my grubby little mitts on their new album and I feel like I should give it my own two cents. I mean, what else is a blog for other than publicising one’s opinions in the vain hope that somebody out there will see them?
Pearl Jam have always had a tough time with the music press, especially in the UK. It’s hard not to get protective when you read a bad review of a band you’ve taken to your heart. That said, I’ve always tried to understand the criticism levelled at them. Pearl Jam are a steadfastly American band, there’s none of that ‘wink wink’ knowing irony you get from British bands. They’re earnest ways are at odds with the ‘cool’ British ambivalence, their song titles appear humourless as they’re usually just the one word (something critics would call pretentious in Pearl Jam, while applauding in some godawful Brit band like Editors), their lyrics full of long words and male angst. Musically, they’re no innovators. 70′s rock is their main influence, chugging riffs and solos their staple. The kind of music that sells out arenas, but costs you credibility with your contemporaries. Which is a pisser if they turn out to be as inventive, influential, and as fucking fantastic as Nirvana (Darn, I’ve gone and done that which all lazy hack critics do when reviewing Pearl Jam – I’ve mentioned the ‘N’ word). But that’s enough of this ‘kill yr idol’ shit…
I didn’t really get into music until I was 16, and then it was just what Radio One had to offer. I wasn’t going out and buying albums and discovering music. But somehow, looking back, I’ve always seemed to have Pearl Jam buried deep in my sub-conscious. My first memory of them was when I was 14/15 catching the Jeremy video on late night MTV, with its ‘the serpent was subtil’ bad spelling, and the long-haired guy sitting on a chair singing with intensity, almost as if his life depended on it. I got to know Alive through infrequent plays on the radio. In 1998, I remember watching Top Of The Pops 2 and catching Todd McFarlane’s AWESOME Do The Evolution video. It was the one and only time I saw it (until recently), and the images were burnt into my psyche. It wasn’t til early 2003 (after catching the Jeremy vid on late night tv again), that i decided to fork out the cash and buy Ten, my first Pearl Jam album. That’s when my love affair truly started. By the end of the year i had every Pearl Jam album, plus the Mother Love Bone and Temple Of The Dog forbears.
Ten is just amazing. From the bombastic Jeremy, the anthemic Alive, Even Flow, and Why Go, the beautiful Oceans and Black, to the brilliance of Porch, it sounds like a band with the world at its feet.
Vs. does away with Ten’s Zeppelin-esque scuzzy riffs, in favour of a raw, spikier, punkier sound. The opening tracks Go and Animal display this perfectly. From there you go into Daughter, one of two tracks in the classic acoustic mould, the other being (the longest title in the Pearl Jam catalogue) Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town. This appears to be the band’s most issue led album, if handled in a slightly clunky manner. Animal deals with gang rape, Daughter - child abuse, Glorified G – gun ownership, W.M.A. – racism, Blood – Drug abuse, Rats – Corporations (?). A low point for me is Leash, a song that could be a precursor to the dumb anti-authority cock rock perpetrated by the likes of Limp Bizkit *shudder* I expect something more from PJ, and it looks like they do as they haven’t played the song live for 12 years. The undisputed highlights of the album are Blood, a funk-tinged balls-to-the-wall rocker where Ed roars, tearing that distinctive voice to pieces. Rearviewmirror, a track that implores you to drop everything and escape, leaving all your worries behind. The haunting Indifference rounds of the album.
By the time of Vitalogy, the band appears desperate to shed a lot of the fan base it had built up on the previous two albums. Not For You could almost be seen as Eddie screaming at those mindless moshers wanting Leash ‘this is not for you, never was for you’. Experimental tracks (well, for Pearl Jam) like Pry to, Bugs, Aye Davanita, and Hey Foxymophandlemama, that’s me, seem like another challenge to the fans, daring them to keep interest and trust where the band is going. Then, as if they felt they’d gone too far with the weird business, the album features Nothingman and Better Man, two songs that will get entire arenas swaying with lighters held aloft at their respective MOR-ness. That coupled with tracks like Spin The Black Circle, Whipping, Corduroy, and Immortality, which are as good a songs as you’ll hear in the Pearl Jam cannon, just goes what a wonderful, confusing experience Vitalogy is. Oh, and the cd book/cover is one of the best things, like, ever.
No Code finds the band in an altogether more relaxed mode, leaving the anger of earlier albums behind and settling into the classic American rock that had been such a big influence. It starts of quietly with Sometimes, before launching into the rocking Hail, Hail. The mantra-esque Who You Are is followed by the fantastic (and hugely U2 influenced) In My Tree, a song that builds into something magnificent in little under four minutes. There’s Habit, a song you get into, well, like a habit. Lukin is a punk one minute wonder. Present Tense uses Zeppelin’s slow build technique superbly, slowly growing into questing brilliance. There’s Mankind, the first song NOT to be sung by Mr Vedder, but guitarist Stone Gossard, and fairly enjoyable it is to. Is No Code as exciting as previous albums? Er, no. It’s still a fine album, which finds the band maturing, and if you give it the time it rewards you greatly.
Ah, Yield. It would have been a fantastic album had i only listened to it the once. The band return to a simple rock formula, and it feels like a bid to win back all the fans they’d alienated with Vitalogy and No Code. By your third or fourth listen you soon realise that Yield is an album of very little substance, there’s not a lot to make you come back for more. The few that stand out are Brain of J., a cool little rocker. Given To Fly, a questing U2/Zepplin hybrid, and Do The Evolution, a rocking stomper of a track.
After trying (and failing) to win back the ‘lost’ fans with Yield, the band produce Binaural, an album that seems designed to rid EVERYONE from their fanbase. It’s just so DULL. That coupled with the overbearing mixing that is binaural, makes this album incredibly difficult to listen to. It feels so lifeless in comparison to previous albums. Breakerfall is the closest the band come to doing a Who number, and Grievance is a fairly enjoyable rock song, but i can’t list a lot more going for it. That said, i have found a new respect for certain songs through the live bootlegs. Life has been forced into them and they sound all the better for it. Check out a live version of Parting Ways if you can.
After the Roskilde tragedy, you wouldn’t have held it against the band had they chose to call it a day, but I’m so glad they didn’t because I LOVE Riot Act. A wonderful album. I’ve never heard Pearl Jam (or any band for that matter) sound so confident in what they’re doing. It takes a few listens, but once it clicks, you never lose it. It sounds like Pearl Jam – The Sessions. The opener Can’t Keep leads straight in to Save You, a punky rocker that’s the most vital sounding music they’d produce since Lukin on No Code. There’s the beautiful Love Boat Captain, written for those at Roskilde ‘lost nine friends we’ll never know, two years ago today’. There’s the lovely MOR I Am Mine, the acoustic Thumbing My Way, the false start to You Are, the spoken word Bushleaguer, and the amazing Arc, powered along by Ed’s voice and his voice alone. This album renewed my faith in the lads.
So, FINALLY, I get to the new album, the self-titled Pearl Jam. Inbetween Riot Act and the new album, the band left long time label Epic, did this give Pearl Jam a new lease of life? Well, going on the first track, Life Wasted, it’s a return to the chugging riff rock of the 70′s that inspired them so greatly. The same could be said for World Wide Suicide, Severed Hand, Marker In The Sand, Big Wave, and Army Reserve. They’re all fairly enjoyable, in an average for Pearl Jam kinda way. There’s Parachutes, which is PJ via the Beatles, that I’m not entirely sure works. Unemployable i also find hard to warm to, with its ‘hail the working class american man!’ lyrics. The two highlights are the punky Comatose, which opens with wonderous Who-esque chords and proves there’s still life in the ol’ dog yet, with Ed tearing up that voice as if it was Vs. all over again. Gone is the other highlight, another ‘leave all my problems behind’ choon that Pearl Jam are so good at (though i prefer the Christmas single, live at Borgata Hall, a stripped down version with just Eddie and his guitar). The album ends with Inside Job, the first song to be written by PJ guitar legend Mike McCready. It’s a bit clunky at times, but has a good Zeppelin slow build feel to it.
Truthfully, I was slightly disappointed with the new album, but then it would have had to have been something special to meet my expectations. My main problem is that the album feels like another Yield. The band are with a new label, desperate to impress. Bands like U2, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Green Day have all found new success recently, and to me it feels that Pearl Jam want to do the same. They roll out the riffs, get the radio play, but as for having anything substantial, something you’ll be listening to in months/years time, it feels ‘lite’. But, then, i’ve only had the album 5 days at the time of writing, maybe I’ll come back to this blog in a few months and have to revise my opinion. We can hope
Anyway, thanks for sitting through my long-winded opinion on a band few of you care aboot.