Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Charles Peelle Begins His Album Countdown (Lost Dogs)

After following Charles Peelle's outrageously rich and interactive ranking of over 160 Pearl Jam songs, we were intrigued.  Clearly, a deeply-rooted Pearl Jam fan, Charles has earned our attention for his ranking of Pearl Jam's studio albums.  Though he declines to rank it, he starts with Lost Dogs.


Before we dive into the actual countdown and ranking of Pearl Jam's eight studio albums, I thought it would be appropriate to dedicate a day to the non-album of PJ's career, the obese b-sides compilation, 2003's Lost Dogs. I did not incorporate it into the album ranking because it is not a proper album and certainly does not fit the description of L.P.s above.


Lost Dogs, 2003

After (at that point) seven studio albums, those of us who were new to Pearl Jam obsession and did not have a collection of all the Holiday singles and unreleased material were astonished to discover how much unreleased material the band had to present for their b-sides and rarities compilation. But what was even more remarkable was the overall quality of these songs. Lost Dogs is the conceptual equivalent of Vedder favorite The Who's 1974 compilation Odds & Sods, but is a far superior release. Stephen Thomas Erlewine from allmusic.com claimed that the double album, "does define their spirit, which is why, against all odds, it's the best album Pearl Jam has yet released." While I almost resentfully disagree with that assertion, it is nonetheless a huge compliment to the band that their b-sides would be called such.

Out of Lost Dogs' 31 songs, at least half would have been album highlights had they been released on the L.P.s that came out of their sessions. The cream of the crop are among Pearl Jam's finest songs ever, including "Sad," "Wash," "Footsteps," "Hard to Imagine," "Down" and "Yellow Ledbetter." Ironically (and frustratingly), the song that had the most success out of this collection was "Last Kiss," one of the most boring songs of the band's entire catalogue. It was actually PJ's highest-charting single, peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1999.

Lost Dogs features little to no flow, as the songs were written and recorded during varying eras. The one section of the album that does seem to meld together beautifully is the first half to two-thirds of disc two, a magnificent view into the meditative nature of the band that could hold up against nearly any portion of any Pearl Jam album. Its tone is dark and somber, featuring songs about death, approaching death, filth, winter, etc. Due to Vedder's soaring vocals during parts such as, "Things were different" from "Hard to Imagine" and screams during the coda of "Wash," the songs somehow manage to not kill the listener's spirit. The songwriting of the band is on full display here and also take some of the edge off of the music, reminding us how brilliant these guys really are.

There are plenty of weird and silly outtakes as well, such as the surf rocker, "Gremmie Out of Control," the cock rock of "Don't Gimme No Lip" and the grisly tale of a bus driver-turned serial killer, "Dirty Frank." But these strange detours serve as reminders of the band's tendency to travel out of its comfort zone and always challenge itself to try new things, even if those things are not popular, catchy or accessible. Overall, Lost Dogs is a wonderful example of what the band did outside of the themes and concepts of its albums over the years, a journey through every facet of Pearl Jam's personality. Its simple pop-fueled rock, punk attitude, Who-inspired instrumental breaks, funny and strange experiments, "grunge"-styled anthems, mournful ballads and sheer classics are all here and all worthwhile.


The discussion continues here.