Thursday, July 29, 2010

Guided Tour of Backspacer: Thin Air

by stip

Thin Air

Thin Air is one of the two counterpoints songs on Binaural (Grievance is the other). These songs play a role similar to I Am Mine on Riot Act—they’re reminders of what the record is struggling against, what it hopes to regain. As has already been pointed out, its inclusion on the record serves to draw attention to miasma that covers the rest of the album. It has the same sense of distance and space (even though the music is meant to be warm and inviting it’s easy to imagine this song sounding different had it been recorded for Yield) but it has made its peace with it. There’s a smoky quality to Eddie’s vocals, which fits the mood of the song of the song perfectly. It’s dark and rich, wispy and delicate. Even the song’s outro, the most energetic moment in the song, still sounds a little fragile. It sounds like there’s something of substance that’s slowly dissipating, appropriately enough, in thin air. But it’s hanging in there.

And that’s the point of Thin Air—to remind the listener, at the halfway point of the record and especially after the lost and empty space of Nothing As It Seems, that there’s still someone or something at the core of that space worth preserving. The lyrics manage to convey this despite being pretty unmemorable, even trite (Stone is much more successful on Rival). The most important lyric is found in the bridge. “How to be happy and true is the quest we’re taking on together.” Eddie has the word together circled in the liner notes, just in case we miss the importance of the lyric. Binaural is an intensely lonely album. In almost every song the main character is alone (sometimes by choice, sometimes because they made a mistake, sometimes because it is forced on them) and it is precisely because they’re alone that they’re in the trouble that they’re in. The one message that runs through every pearl jam record is that the only way to confront alienation is in solidarity with other people—that love is the only thing capable of creating light in the empty spaces we find each other. And Thin Air understands that, however imperfectly it expresses it. The important part of the lyric is not that they’re trying to be happy and true, but that they’re trying together. Light Years is a song about a dying light, and wondering how we’ll be able to see once it’s extinguished. Thin Air generates its own light—as long as his baby’s in his arms the light remains.