Thursday, July 8, 2010

Guided Tour of Binaural: Evacuation

by stip

Evacuation is the most understated call to arms in Pearl Jam’s catalog. The music starts off sounding fairly urgent, attempting to approximate the sound and energy of a siren (they get this sound right during the fade out of the song—listen for it, and imagine how much different evacuation would sound if this was the dominant note), but not quite reaching it. The whole thing is fairly muted—like it wanted to explode but couldn’t find the powder. That’s the central tension that seems to be running through Evacuation. The song prophesizes some imminent collapse, and the chorus pleads for us to run away, to abandon a sinking ship—yet it sounds like the project is hardly worth it. Why bother? This is one of the things that I suspect puts people off from the song, and one of the things that makes it interesting. Eddie hardly sounds like he cares whether or not we get out. There’s something perfunctory about all this., going through the motions because you know you’re supposed to but not believing in your own agency

The lyrics have the same tension. They call for us to pay attention (to take heed and change direction, to take stock, to plant seeds of reconstruction, no time this time to feign reluctance). Something is definitely wrong. Things are definitely collapsing around us. There’s no time to wait for things to get better, and it would be naive to put off acting until everything is perfect (its like you’re waiting for a diamond shore to wash your way) He encapsulates this nicely in the final verse:

There was a solemn man who watched his twilight disappear (in the sand)
Altered by a fallen eagle, a warning sign
He sensed that worry could be strength with a plan

It sounds like a call to arms. But the problem is there is no sense of what is wrong. No sense of what that plan might be or what it could address. Something is seriously wrong, but there is no sense of what it is, or even who to blame. There may not be a more substance free ‘political’ song in their catalog. The album artwork is revealing here. You have a head surrounded by two bullhorns—the doodles convey the sense of the bullhorns about to blare something right into this guys ears—too close and too loud to be understood. The warning will probably come across as more annoying than helpful.

And so there is something almost tired about Evacuation. It wants to be urgent. It wants to get us on our feet and in the streets, but it doesn’t know how to do it. The screaming is exhausting, and the worry is just enervating because there is no plan, and no strength. Just a sense that we need to get out even though there is no place to go, and nothing to do when we get there.