I think I’ve figured it out: Eddie Vedder and co. have completely realistic views of their lives in the world. To wit: pretty damn nice. That’s the problem. See, I’m a whiny little brat, and here are five guys singing about people around them having issues, or being bad influences on their nice days. The strongest lyrical sentiment on this album is “fuck me if I say something you don’t wanna hear” from a song called (really) “Save You.” God damnit, I’m struggling to make rent and deal my numerous mental issues, and you guys are busy writing songs about how you’ve climbed Maslow’s pyramid and wish your friends wouldn’t be so sad. Combine that with a total lack of whimsy and…yeah, the best I’m ever ever ever going to be is happy about a nice riff. Well, mostly. I still have a soft spot for songs about disliking George Bush and there’s one. Ah political times, how they always seem simpler in the past.
Luckily, the band and the songwriting is in far better form here than last time out. Lyrically everything sounds like the thoughts of a nice, smart, happy 40-something, but musically there’s lots going on – check out the neat descendy riff thing in “Can’t Keep” or the gourmet riff on “Save You” or the classy ending solo on “I Am Mine” that knows well enough to close out in about twenty seconds. Sure, there are boring sections – the obligatory acoustic number is no help, the obligatory experimental number is just a minute of Enya, there are about five backgroundy rock songs, but it’s a big improvement, and rarely bad.
I wanna gab a bit about the two unusual songs – “You Are” has constant stop-start guitars that awkwardly remind me of Linkin Park’s melodramatic keyboards. But at least they’re on guitar, and the song is far, far from the predictable angsty bar chords spread by those shitbags, so hey. Also, “Bushleaguer” is a political number, the only overt one I know of to this point in the catalogue. The verses are pretty meh “poetry” (though it’s always useful to remember that the line “born on third, thinks he got a triple” sums up most conservative politicians and informs the policies they spread), but both the pre-chorus and chorus bring catchy, artsy outrage into effect wonderfully. Think I’ll listen to it again right now! Mm, that was nice. It’s definitely an experiment, but it’s the only relevant Pearl Jam song since “Yield.” There’s something like six musical phrases in here worth remembering, and the oddball arrangement matches the production far better, demurkying the murkiness and alt-rock blah. So that’s good
But damnit, read these lyrics:
“I’ve lived all this life / Like an ocean in disguise / You can’t keep me here any more.”
“Trying to shake the cancer off? / Once you hold the hold of love / It’s all surmountable.”
“I know I was born and I know I will die / The in between is mine.”
“Love is a tower of strength to me / I am the shoreline / But you’re the sea.”
“Don’t see some men as half empty / See them half full of shit.”
Okay, the last one is awkwardy rad. But the rest: I GET IT. YOU’RE FINE. WAAAAAMBULANCE.