Pearl Jam – Backspacer

Oh lordy lordy have you heard “The Fixer”? More pop-punk or even pop-emo than grunge, it’s like the best song Taking Back Sunday wished they wrote, all whiny lead guitar and solid rhythm guitar and insanely catchy. Fuck sakes, the verses are populated with hand claps and the chorus is mostly “yeah yeah yeah” and yet it’s genuinely inspiring – a monument of the power of music to make us feel like acting. The non-proverbial song that makes us glad to be wherever we are with whoever we’re there with, and with this ridiculously great syncopated gap between guitar trill and drum beat to keep the whole thing going. Forget the boring bridge and the abrupt fadeout, this is amazing. What the fuck is this? A bunch of 40-something reaching some kind of artistic apex a million years past when they should, a lesson to young bands on how to rock, a chapter and a verse from an ancient bible, unexpected as a kicker passing to the holder for a game winning touchdown, Bates to Gant style. What the fuck, guys? This shit is insane. It’s good like a crazy person nailing existence while rambling on the street corner. It’s what we would like Richey to be saying when he hit 40, and yet they’re older than that, and with a better, more practiced rhythmic sense. What the fuck is this, old guys’ hour? Did all that hanging out with Neil Young pay off some weird ageist karma? No matter, it’s fantastic. God, fuck my natural tits until they’re blue. Fuck I want it again and again. Fight to get it back again! Yeah yeah yeah, fight to get it back again! Yeah yeah yeah! Fuck, fuck, I love it too much.

Okay, aside from that. “Amongst the Waves” is a pretty great slow burning rock number with multiple decent hooks. Ain’t it nice, Eddie Vedder thinks he’s a soul that has been saved! But it’s a solid song.

AND THAT’S IT. The rest of the album is a few mediocre rockers and a bunch of slow nothings and it ALL is about how Eddie Vedder is self-actualized and likes helping people and likes love. Really, that’s all. Ever. Forever. Nothing other than positivity for eleven motherfucking songs. In single form it’s pretty great, but this is a bunch of dumdum meh whogives blah one after another after another. The rest don’t have any godfucking hooks for god’s fuckin skaes sakes. It’s okay, Eddie, nobody thinks you’re Gandhi. Well, whatever. One fuckingaamazinsong and other moderately transcendent song – I think that’s about all we can ask from our musicians these days. I don’t know. I could reflect, but alright, the two songs themselves raise this album above average.

Now I have drinking to do. It’s Saturday and I’m feeling antisocial.



Pearl Jam – Pearl Jam

Hey, it’s the third straight album with an identical digipak! Creative minds at work!

But whatever, Pearl Jam is here to create rock music, not rad packages. A year or so ago, girlfriend and I went to a small bar in a small strip mall at the very East end of a generous definition of the downtown area. From the shabby exterior we were expecting a bunch of unfriendly old men watching soccer and spitting. And cheap beer. We got the cheap beer, but instead of mean-spirited, leering old immigrant men we met a handful of the nicest, most talented immigrants we’d ever met in one place. Far from a place for old creepers, there were even a bunch of teenaged girls hanging out illegally, hanging out in the same bar as their parents, and a diverse group of people who knew each other through the bar and drinking and laughing together. Then the band, composed entirely of whoever was in the bar, started to play an improvised set of covers and jams. Far from an awkward bunch of Oasis songs or failed attempts to sound young, these old guys motherfucked the scene. They made everything sound good – and we’d only had a handful of beers. They picked on us and made us sing songs, and damned if they didn’t make even us sound pretty good up on that stage. It was a shocking and lovely experience, and a good reminder what good people can do to a shabby bar.

The bar’s closed now, but fuck my tits if playing this album didn’t immediately remind me of being in that bar, despite an entirely different aesthetic. Somehow Eddie and the Vedders got it between last album and this one. It’s by no means continent drifting, but gosh is this ever is a nice little album to listen to. It’s like being in that bar again, only instead there’s a bar band playing originals, and you expect it to be a bunch of failures reliving their glory days, but instead after three beers and six songs you find yourself looking at your friends and grinning while nodding along to the songs. And that’s a better way to look at this album: it’s like an awesome, unexpected bar band. If this was a bunch of kids then 27 year-olds would be falling over their feet to pretend it drifts the aforementioned continents.

While I’m at it, let me run down a few complaints about the “new generation” from Reddit’s “Redditors over 30 – what’s something about the younger generation you just don’t understand?” thread. Bear in mind that I am LALITHA. I am not seventeen, and much as I like hearing what teenagers have to say.

Q: “Everything is creepy now and everyone is a creeper. So much paranoia. Why must all strangers be deemed dangerous? A kid used to be able to play out on the street by themselves all day and then go home when they heard their mom calling out their name for dinner.”

A: What are you, fucking seventy? This is the top response and it’s fucking retarded. This is a complaint for the 80s. Maybe kids don’t go out and play because you moved to the suburbs and their friends’ houses are too far away from theirs. Everyone is a creeper? That’s a term reserved for Facebook stalkers or combovers hitting on 20 year-olds. Do not pass Go. Go back to your job.

Q: I hope you don’t really think of yourself as “the Bieber generation”.

A: Nobody does. Pop stars are the norm, Nirvana is not. Britney Spears and The Backstreet Boys. New Kids on the Block. Michael Jackson. I think we’re alone now. Lots and lots of perceptive, wonderful young people are not the fuck buying Justin Bieber, he’s just a handy shortform for someone a lot of people ARE buying. You really think listening to Nirvana made you special? Vanilla Ice was only a year earlier, and that sold more than any Nirvana album when it came out.

Q: Why do you keep looking at your phones?

A: Because they have friends? Friends text each other. When you’re a teenager the gossip is endless. If I could’ve gossiped all the time I would have. It’s fun. You’re either bitter or jealous if you see this as a problem. I don’t even see it as a problem and I’m bitter that I don’t have constant texting to do. But when I have a texty day I feel pretty happy. Oh, being Lalitha! But anyway. Ugh.

Q: Fascination with reality TV and being famous.

A: Aw, c’mon, reality TV is just a more advanced form of easily accessible entertainment. Empty yes, but Seinfeld was the Beatles of comedy: never to be seen before or after. I’d take Jersey Shore over Urkel any day. As for fame…eh, better than chasing lotteries, which is what I hear from co-workers all the time.

Q: I don’t understand why youngsters think “trying really hard” earns you an A. Top marks are awarded for mastering the material.

A: Because their parents taught them as much. This is actually a good complaint, but the fault lies with those who taught their kids that everyone is a special snowflake. I know I heard that over and over when I was younger from Barney. The young didn’t create the self-esteem industry, boomers did. Blame them. Also, trying really hard is a better habit to learn than getting As is.

Q: Twilight, tight jeans, the lack of demand for decent saturday morning cartoons.

A: Twilight is just a teen fiction fad, but fine. Tight jeans? Those have been in demand ever since showing off your ass got you laid. Cartoons? They’re not exactly a pivotal part of childhood. Let ’em eat a good video game instead.

Q: Im only 28 but I was still part of the generation that didnt even have cell phones until high school. I cant understand how readily and willingly kids give out every detail of their lives online. Twitter, Facebook, or whatever else they just want people to know what they are doing at all time.

A: They’re doing it for their friends to know what they’re doing, not strange people who dislike apostrophes. Teenhood involves a struggle for popularity – letting people know what cool things you’re doing is a way to show everyone how awesome you are and how everyone should be your friend. Privacy, as a concept, isn’t something most people need to consider deeply until they’re applying for jobs or whatnot. Shortsighted? Maybe, but you’re have a hard time communicating that to people whose frontal lobes aren’t yet fully developed.

Okay, album’s over. But look, kids: the idea of generation gap is something used to easily dismiss one’s own lack of motivation to grow. You rarely hear David Cross complaining about not understanding teenagers. Every generation has its stupidities, but they come from the same places. Teenagers gotta teen, corporations gotta corporate. Different looks and different technologies, but the same boys and girls you’ve always known. If you don’t get people now then you never got them. On the plus side, everyone likes pizza.

No silly hidden track this time to ruin a good last song! Pearl Jam, how you’ve grown!


Pearl Jam – Riot Act

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.


Pearl Jam – I Am Mine

As I climb mount Pearl Jam, I reflect on how glad I am that there’s no God. I mean, Christ, wouldn’t it be awful to be tormented with disease, injury, natural disasters, racism, cognitive bias, and psychological abuse by a thing with the power to make it go away. Wouldn’t it be awful to live in the same universe as an omnipotent being that demanded constant worship? Wouldn’t it be upsetting to live in the same universe as a creature that watched mankind, something created supposedly in its own image, sputter aimlessly for hundreds of thousands of years before leaving behind vague clues? A being that demands reading and re-reading and re-re-reading of a book less captivating than Ulysses or The Lorax? Imagine the symphonies we could hear with an auditory range greater than 20-20,000 hz! Imagine the paintings we could make if we could see ultraviolet and infrared light! Imagine how many awesome worlds there could be for us to inhabit if the universe wasn’t 99% empty space! Oh, and thanks for a planet supposedly made for us that allows for living only on the very outer crust that’s made mostly of water.

But since there is no God, there’s something to live for. There’s laughter and happiness to offset all the pain. We’re free to follow whatever purpose in life we seek. There is psychology, and depth, and sensuality. This is a neat accident we have here. The plane is harsh but bearable. If this were a test where the rewards were continued existence around people praising the goodness of God then I’d either ready my ass for Satan’s pitchfork or (if God were truly good) I’ll be drinking with Jimmy Joyce in any case. The Sun City Girls were riiiiiight.

“I Am Mine” and “Down” are both brief songs, and both songs about our individuality, and attempts to live the curious and relatively brief phenomenon called life. They’re rock songs, but breezy ones. The single track in particular has a nice hook and one shining moment (around 2:20) where Eddie Vedder sounds actually excited. Then the ending solo is like a modern guitar solo should be: pointed, piercing, and over the fuck before we get sick of it. If I didn’t know better I’d say the boys were back in town.

I know better.


Pearl Jam – Binaural

Have I mentioned that “Do the Evolution” has maybe the best music video ever? The entirety of life on Earth, and some wacky predictions for the future (giant groundsnake things!), all before the hayday of CGI.

Anyway, fresh from the lively town of Whogivesafuckville comes a newly irrelevant Pearl Jam. It isn’t as if they aren’t trying, but 2000 was a time of Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit. Breaking through would mean a terrific record with crashing messages and such, but it just isn’t here at all.

The real problem here is a lack of ideas. But let’s not forget the boring, leaden, “heavy” production and overpowering, encompassing sincerity to turn this into a CD that sounds like an old man wearing a comfortable sweater. Stealing Soundgarden’s drummer cemented them as the last survivor of the alt-rock revolution, but there’s no steam here – no surprise on an album where the hidden track is called “Writer’s Block.” The sequencing is bloody stupid, too. The three “rockers” then get all soft for like half an hour?

But really, there’s just nothing here that’s all that good. “Breakerfall” teases getting all hard-rock but kills it by getting super cheeseball. “Gods’ Dice” has nothing memorable. “Evacuation” is memorable only for being annoying. “Light Years” sounds like adult-oriented-rock. There’s a few nice moments, but who really cares. The highlight is “Soon Forget,” a ukelele and vocals only light number on the transience of money. Nice as that is, EVERY song is about something super-serious and unsmiling. Or, if smiling, smiling like a sage delivering koans, and the often decent lyrics can’t match up.

Also, minus an extra point for breaking my fifteen year old heart many years ago. After this point PJ made it obvious they weren’t changing a god damned thing. While the songs would get better, every album sounds like shrug a Pearl Jam album. I guess someone had to fade away instead of burning out.


Pearl Jam – Nothing As It Seems

I’m often torn on whether to put lead singles before or after albums, but since this one explicitly says “TAKEN FROM THE FORTHCOMING EPIC RELEASE BINAURAL” I can be pretty Jew sure that it is a harbinger of said album. The next two tracks I can be reasonable sure are from the “Bridge School Benefit 1999” so that explains that. But have no fear, curiously fearful readers! These aren’t normal shitty live versions! I’ll explain when I’m older.

The single: “Nothing As It Seems” announces quickly that there will be no real singles from Binaural, and while that’s a problem for the album, it’s fine for now. NAIS is a solid song, even if it comes across like a super serious Traveling Wilburys song and I don’t know what it’s about. It’s SERIOUS MUSIC. It sure as hell ain’t about something angsty and may even be about ‘tardation, but I’m too lazy to get all on this one tonight. Just believe me that it’s a very nice slow song CHRIST NINE LIVES with a chorus that sticks in your head. Also, the release of this song marks the end of Pearl Jam as a contemporary commercial force – this isn’t a single, this is a hidden highlight, released because there’s nothing immediately viable to be found. Fine for me, but take it as the end of a furnace that it’s.

The others are taken from an all-acoustic show. One is “Better Man,” a great song not particularly hurt or hindered by the presentation, and the other is the only official release that I know of of “Footsteps,” the long-lost third song on Pearl Jam’s first ever demo (the other two were “Alive” and “Once”). It’s real nice with the acoustic treatment. Eddie’s calm, grey-haired performance makes the potentially melodramatic lyrics gain a huge dose of pathos. It now sounds like it’s a father singing to a lost son, or something! Plus, there’s a solid riff, like old memory, and it carries quite nicely acoustically. A winner, and a treat to fans to boot.

Plus it’s a limited edition. I have #18663! Also it’s mixed by Tchad Blake, while makes me think I should write my friend Chad’s name as Tchad over and over until he notices. Funny guy over here! But that sense of humour combined with my startling good looks are why the ladies love the Myles so damned hard. And while I’m being great, I think an awesome idea would be a series of body acceptance books about the most disgusting parts of our body. Who wouldn’t want to rock their child to sleep to the dulcet prose of “Mommy’s Smelly Asshole”?


Pearl Jam – Last Kiss

Another day, another Pearl Jam single delivering example what fans have come to expect: two non-album old-timey rock and roll covers.

Yep. “Last Kiss” was originally a Christmas Club single, but when their record company implored them to release it they quasi-relented and, being good guys, released it as a single only with 100% of the royalties going to rebuilding Kosovo. Aww! The single ended up being their highest charting ever, hitting, I believe, #2. So they had as solid a pop success as CCR. Wacky! It helps that this is a bloody great single. The title track is as straight a pop song as PJ could possibly release – but a Beach Boys style pop song – one with a sad tale of teen lovers rend apart by fate. Or, in this case, a car accident, with the memorable chorus of “Oh where oh where can my baby / The lord took her away from me / She’s gone to heaven so I’ve got to good / So I can see my baby when I leave this world.” Re-aww! I’ll even forgive it a boring last minute or so.

The second song is almost as good: a perfectly performed cover of “Soldier Of Love” that gets to be all whimsical and have a cute catchy bassline and implore a lass to surrender at the war of love. And it ends with a fun little “cha cha cha!” It’s nice to hear Pearl Jam actually having fun out there. Humanizing and all that.

Now look, I hear ya if you aren’t into “biotruths” and all that, but the fact of human evolution (and you aren’t disputing that, right?) means that everything we do – everything – has its solid causes that evolutionary psychology can find. Whether it will or not it more debatable, but come on here. Yes, something like possessiveness is partly attributable to societal pressures, but then where did society come from? It didn’t spring into existence randomly; it’s a cobbled together collection of practices encouraged by and only by our evolution and our cognitive biases, which were also evolved. Call it reductio ad evolution if you wanna be bitter, but it works. Love is a neurochemical con job, but it’s a GREAT neurochemical con job. Take it as what it is and make it the best you can, and leave them better than you found them.

Points deducted for only being six minutes long, though. Surely you could’ve thrown in something else, Pearly O’Jammington.

8 / 10