Posts Tagged ‘pearl jam’

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Pearl Jam – No Code

November 9, 2007

Apple, outlet, Dennis Rodman’s eye, pool ball, rotting teeth, zipper. The cover of No Code confounds and confuses, as does the album in it’s entirety. This album was released during a time when no one seemed to be able to quite figure out the point or overall goal of Pearl Jam in rock music. Jumping from mainstream rock anthems to hard rock, grunge, acoustic balladry, blues, classic rock revival, experimental junk rock, and back again within the span of one album, let alone their entire career, made Pearl Jam a hard band to pin in any area, and upon first listens, some songs or albums may appeal to some listeners and not others. Pearl Jam are a band that writes and plays whatever they feel like, exploring a wide range of issues, while still maintaining artistic integrity and an excellent sense of pure rock and roll. No Code is arguably Pearl Jam’s most diverse, jumpy, and spontaneous album to date, and probably the most prone to being misunderstood. What the hell is Pearl Jam trying to say with this set of thirteen seemingly unrelated songs? What the hell are Pearl Jam all about anyway?

My experience with Pearl Jam has stretched through my entire lifetime, since I was very young and my mother played the records and I heard them on the radio, to my childhood when she stuck with the band when the media did not, to my early high school years when I rediscovered the band and countless songs and hooks that colored my childhood, to now when I am progressively rounding up all the stray material and learning why exactly I enjoy them. When I popped No Code into my stereo years ago, probably six years after it was actually released, I recognized some of the songs and did not recognize others. This scramble of familiarity made things all the more confusing, yet kept me that much more interested and willing to stick with the album.

I began asking myself questions, because that is exactly what adolescents do. They ask themselves questions that they can’t answer, mostly because they are too lazy and don’t want to work hard enough to find the answers. Why do I like this album? Why does the album juxtapose (well, maybe I didn’t know words THAT big) hard rockers awkwardly next to quiet ballads? Why does Who You Are, the song that sounds like it SHOULD be the opener, come third in the line? Who is Jerome Turner? Why does Eddie narrate the lyrics to I’m Open? Is Lukin even a word? Why did this album only come with nine Polaroids with song lyrics on them, not even coving all the songs? And what is with all this cover art, indecipherable phantasmagoria?

It took me several years of occasional listening to unwrap No Code and get to the point where I enjoyed it fully. The songs that stood out on first listen were Hail Hail and Off He Goes, simply because I recognized them. Experiences like the ones I had with these songs were the reason that I started to get so interested in music in the first place. The nostalgia, rushes of memories, and sense of vague familiarity were what made many albums in my mothers collection feel like buried treasure. Although I gravitated to those songs in particular, there were several more that struck me as outwardly fantastic, such as the other single Who You Are. The aforementioned song is nothing short of a masterpiece for Pearl Jam and an accurate representation of No Code. It swirls into view with a pounding beat and is dotted with many tidbits of foreign instrument, such as steel drums and sitars. The sitar is used again to it’s full potential by the time the song has revealed it’s winning hook and cemented it’s place in the listeners ears. That paired with a wonderful guitar solo makes it one of the finest songs on the album.

This excellence is not lonely. It’s easy for me to say that every song on this album is really great, but from a commercial standpoint, Pearl Jam knew how to put their best foot forward with No Code by producing three singles which would become radio staples. Hail Hail, Who You Are, and Off He Goes are all fantastic songs in their own right, and all coming from three completely different directions. Hail Hail is one hell of a riff rocker, Who You Are is an eclectic anthem, and Off He Goes is a gentle acoustic ballad that rivals Daughter in sheer quality. These songs would be enough to reel in the casual listener, which would then be hit hard with all the other great things Pearl Jam has to say here. Every song is finely tuned and unique; Sometimes is a reflective prayer, In My Tree is a driving explosion of glorious sound, Habit is as angry and rhythmic as the preceding album Vitalogy’s Spin The Black Circle, and I’m Open is poetry recited over gentle ambient chords and soft beats. This album has about as much continuity and order to it as a fleeting stage one dream.

And yet somehow it works. No Code ends with Around The Bend, a deceptively simple lullaby of tropical style. This ending is deceptive, but ultimately satisfying and beautiful. The listener naturally expects some kind of stylistic answer or solution within that last song, and this might be yet another unsatisfying venture on the first listen. But like the whole album, it opens up with a little time. This is the brilliant code that is communicated through the album perfectly, that is, there is no code. The second you start to pin down a pattern or style in Pearl Jam, they will undoubtedly change or surprise you. The only way to fully appreciate No Code, and Pearl Jam, is to take several steps backward and look at the full picture. Pearl Jam are an excellent band that make whatever music they want to, with whatever message they feel. The entire notion that Pearl Jam cast away their fan base by becoming more experimental is a sad misconception. Pearl Jam never attempted to alienate anyone. It is not their fault that they have a strong desire to push their creative boundaries, and it is not their fault that their true fans were revealed in the process. In any case, No Code is the keystone to Pearl Jam’s discography, and the picture of excellence by which the rest of their albums should be judged, even their earlier, more revered works such as Ten. It might not make any sense at first, but that makes it all the more fun. No Code is a puzzle which can be solved in a number of ways, all yielding the same solution, a transcendent masterpiece.

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Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam

May 12, 2006


Out of the big four bands of the Seattle Grunge era of the early nineties, only two remain. And one has only resurfaced recently to do a small tour. That band is Alice in Chains. But the only band that has continued to create albums since their debut to this very day is Pearl Jam. Pearl Jam has always been a special band to me, and I remember hearing most of their songs on the radio when I was just a little kid. One of my parents would often play albums by the band over and over, and the tunes got burned into my head.

So when I rediscovered Pearl Jam some years later, I already knew a good deal of the songs. The nostalgia is probably why I like the band as much as I do now. I can hum most of their songs. But that nostalgia is a result of me listening the crap out of those songs for years. When you hear a new album, you really need to play it over and over to truly find what the album has to offer. I will probably never get any nostalgia from Pearl Jams newest self titled release, simply because my childhood has already come and gone. And to be honest with you, most fond memories and nostalgia come from when you are a kid. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you can’t have those fantastic memories from another part of your life. And those kinds of childhood memories aren’t even the best kinds of memories. But they are ominous, and really deep. So this is really my first Pearl Jam album where I can form an opinion on it that is nonbiast, and more straight from me, because upon hearing this album in it’s entirety, I haven’t already had every song on it crammed into my brain.

It’s good. I’ll say that right off. I’m sure most Pearl Jam fans who have been watching the reviews have been hearing that it is a really straightforward album. That couldn’t be more true. Most Pearl Jam albums kick off with a strong set of opening tracks and charge forward for a little bit, drift off into obscurity for a little bit, come back kicking ass, and then end on either a strange or strong note. S/T does this too, a little, in that it is an album that really develops. It’s first five tracks, including the hit single World Wide Suicide, are fantastic. Then the album mellows out just a little bit, and drifts back upward into longer more interesting sounding songs until it’s glorius conclusion. If you could view an albums strength by statistics, this might be the best Pearl Jam album yet. But you can’t, and the songs are new, so you kind of need to get into them a little.

Yeah, the first five songs are all real ass kickers. The awesome guitar duo of Mike McCready and Stone Gossard are still great at crating riffs that can catch your ear, and Eddie Vedder still really knows how to write the lyrics. While tunes like Life Wasted and Marker in the Sand sound like they cover territory that has already been explored, they are still just generally rocking tracks. Comatose is the revival of another classic Pearl Jam tendency; it’s a fast ass kicking short rocker that has great catchy vocals. World Wide Suicide at first sounds like a song built around a title, but it later opens up to be more than that, and gets more enjoyable after every listen.

Then the album mellows out with Parachutes, almost a tropical love tune. It might be the best song on the album. It’s not classic Pearl Jam right away, but once you get used to the lyrics, it opens up too. Unemployable is an autumny 70s type tune which is much more accessible than most other songs on the album. Big Wave is kind of weak, but the chorus is cool. Same with Gone. You have to listen to that one for a while to understand it, because the song itself is not completely consistant. It starts out slow and minor and eventually grows to be the exact opposite. It’s a good song. Then we have a brief reprise of Life Wasted, and we are launched into Army Reserve, which is really vintage Pearl Jam. It’s catchy and almost a litte Psychedelic. Come Back is a Yellow Ledbetter type tune, but to be honest with you, it’s not that great. It’s just kind of weak to me, but everyone else seems to love it, so what do I know? And then we end the album with Inside Job, an extremely strong song involving a change of heart and an a great developing tune that covers a lot of ground.

It’s a really good disc. It’s exactly what a Pearl Jam fan could want too, because Pearl Jam fans understand that you really need to listen to Pearl jam a lot to understand and like them fully. This may be the bands most consistant and solid album ever, and it might be my favorite album they have made too, and I have almost all of their albums. Just give it a little time, that’s all I ask.