Tuesday, January 5, 2010

BEST OF THE 00s: PEARL JAM


Pearl Jam was one of the dominant band, if not the dominant band, of the '90s. It was their awkward childhood and adolescence as a band. And they probably produced their best music during that era: Ten, Vs.,Vitalogy and No Code. (I felt that Yield was a great album, but it saw them slipping.)

But in the '00s, they've put out a lot of great music which doesn't get its due. 2000's Binaural, produced by Tchad Blake, is probably their most underrated album. The single, "Nothing As It Seems," is a really cool song, but a willfully uncommercial pick for first single. There were some great garage rock gems there: "Breakerfall," "God's Dice" and "Evacuation." "Thin Air" is one of their sweetest songs (and was included on our wedding compilation) - I always felt that Al Green or Solomon Burke or even Willie Nelson could do a great cover. 

2002's Riot Act was kind of their mid-life crisis. Musically, it had a bit too much of an obsession (I felt) with indie rock. It was like a guy who works hard to stay in shape, but he starts slouching to appeal to indie rock fans.  It's not convincing and also unecessary.  It's interesting to me that they get so much respect from the indie rock world these days. Anyway, the album is, in my opinion, their weakest, but features two of their best songs, "I Am Mine" and "Love Boat Captain."

In 2003, they released a lovely song, "Man Of The Hour," for an equally lovely film, Tim Burton's Big Fish. That year also saw the release of Lost Dogs, a 2 CD set of non-album tracks.  The following year, they put out rearviewmirror, a 2 CD set of "greatest hits" (I had the privlege to write the record label's bio for that album). And, with that, they moved into the world of being actually independent.

On 2006's Pearl Jam, I felt that they wanted to be a "big" band again. Riot Act had a song called "Bu$hleaguer" - but it was so boring, that it didn't make much of a protest song. Even people who wanted to get behind it, couldn't.  I think they started taking cues from (maybe) The Clash and Bruce Springsteen - artists who had big messages, and wrote music appropriately so that it would reach big audiences. It was a great album, with "Life Wasted," "World Wide Suicide," "Unemployable," "Severed Hand" giving them some new anthems.  "Come Back" is maybe their sweetest song ever, if I produced Solomon Burke, I would suggest that he cover this one. I feel like that song could be a huge hit in the right hands.

Last year's Backspacer is a great album, it saw them reunite with Vs. and Vitalogy producer Brendan O'Brien.  The first single, "The Fixer," provided me with a mantra of sorts, and could be the unofficial slogan of No Expiration: "If something's old, I wanna put a little shine on it. When something's gone, I wanna fight to get it back again." "Gonna See My Friend" and "Supersonic" are great rockers as well, and "Just Breathe" is another wonderful ballad.

I also have to mention Eddie Vedder's work outside of the band: his solo debut, 2007's Into The Wild soundtrack, is classic. He's also collaborated with the Supersuckers, Neil Finn, Cat Power and former Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons. He is creating his own solo repertoire, and hopefully he feels comfortable balancing his own career with the band. Stone Gossard has done some solo stuff and some guest appearances outside of the band.  His other group, Brad, released one album - I wish they were more active. Jeff Ament released his first solo album, and reuinted with his pre-Green River hardcore band, Derranged Diction (and Stone and Jeff did a few Green River reunion things). Mike McCready did a few things with his other band The Rockfords and did some guest appearances.  Matt Cameron meanwhile did a few albums with his garage rock band Wellwater Conspiracy, an album with his jazz band Harrybu McCage and a few other things. He really did come into his own as Pearl Jam's drummer in the '00s.

But the real reason that I am including Pearl Jam in my Best of the '00s is because they really created their own path during the '00s.  Not worrying about having huge hit records (but, finally, not shying away from the possibility of doing so), and taking advantage of their position: they don't need to deal with record labels anymore. They've always been a really popular touring act, and the group they get compared to often is The Grateful Dead. (Not musicially, just the fact that they can play huge venues without radio or press).  Since 2000, they've been releasing live albums ("bootlegs") of every concert that they play (for the most part) and they offer them at fair prices. Speaking of their live shows, they are always mind-blowingly great. They have also just started to dip into their archives: in 2006, they released New Year's Eve 1992, a concert recorded while they were just blowing up at New York's Academy (they were actually opening for Keith Richards & The X-Pensive Winos, my wife was at that show). And last year they put out a pretty amazing super-deluxe reissue of Ten (in a number of different versions, I got the big kahuna).

I think that, like The Dead, Pearl Jam will be a huge touring act for decades to come. But unlike The Dead, I bet they will still be making vital relevant music.

3 comments:

Will said...

Well said. I think tomorrow's going to be a Pearl Jam day.

Minority said...

Thanks for reading and posting Will. I've been digging some new Pearl Jam live bootlegs from the 2009 tour. Today I listened to the Austin City Limits festival show, they were joined by Perry Farrell for "Mountain Song." I'm waiting for them to release the bootleg of the Halloween show, I was there and it was pretty amazing.

michael gilchrist said...

Its great to see that Pearl Jam is still at the top of their game after nearly 20 years. I have been a huge fan since the mid 90's when they came out with Yellow Ledbetter and Black, which are still my two favorite songs.