Is Pearl Jam a Jamband? They always have been. They were mis-labeled grunge because they were, in some ways, in the right place at the right AND wrong time, which put the band on a oft-times deserving course of superstardom but which they have consciously steered away from.
And exactly what happens to the voice of a generation when the generation ages? If you’re one eternally brooding rock star named Eddie, you step back and do the only thing you can...you please yourself, you let your band jam, let your lyrical conviction pour through you and last but not least...you seem as if you’re having fun again.
Now that the Seattle volcano of hype has laid dormant for what seems like a millennium, it’s easy to listen to old PJam records and realize that they were just 5 guys from Seattle full of purpose and ambition and an invincible desire to command an audience and jam as if their very life depended on it.
It’s been almost ten years since the release of Ten and Pearl Jam continues to evolve with each of the band members; vocalist Vedder, guitarists, Stone Gossard and Mike McCready, bassist Jeff Ament and new drummer Matt Cameron (ex-Soundgarden) contributing to the writing process. Binaural launches with “breakerfall” which blazes out of the gate with an indelible stamp of The Who and re-establishes the fact the band has appropriately monickered itself by the inclusion of the word Jam. Followed in succession by “god’s dice” and “evacuation”, one wonders...What took these guys so long to remember what they do best? The first three tracks of Binaural rip right through the air like a projectile missile in pursuit of a glider plane.
The album’s centerpiece is most definitely the leadoff single “nothing as it seems” which leads the listener down a dark sinewy tunnel of feedback-laden guitar before transposing into a recurrence of atmospheric gesturing. Senor Vedder lets the word “methadone” seep out of his soul to rhyme with “ baritone” and you are overwhelmed with a sense of urgency that a journey to the depths of emotion has begun.
Unlike Ten which is a classic rock record (when the needle hit, minus the obligatory flip it was nearly impossible to do anything but listen to the entire album), Binaural is mostly consistent, though the song sequence doesn’t reward the listener with the desire to listen all the way through...I got about half way and the momentum dissipated.
And what of the Jammers in the ever changing landscape of pop music. Pearl Jam’s respectable debut of 200,000+ copies sold landed Binaural at #2 on the album chart but was dwarfed by Britney Spears sophomore opus, which registered 1.3 million in its first week. But then again, it seems like a lifetime ago that PJ’s sophomore offering set a, then unprecedented, first week mark of 950,000 copies sold. The lasting musical impact of Pearl Jam vs. Britney Spears may not be decided in my lifetime, but as I’ve come to learn...the impactful validity of any passing fad is nothing as it seems.
Pearl Jam fans: 5 out of 5 stars, All the others: 4 out of 5 stars
Tracks: breakerfall/ god’s dice/ evacuation/ light years/ nothing as it seems/ thin air/ insignificance/ of the girl/ grievance/ rival/ sleight of hand/ soon forget/ parting ways