Pearl Jam released a new song last night (Ole). You can snag a studio version off of pearljam.com, or watch a live performance on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon website. It’s hard for me to get a handle on this. It clearly comes from the strand of Pearl Jam that produces songs like Leatherman, all night, hitchhiker, big wave, you, green disease, and supersonic—that glossy hyper kinetic pop/punk stuff that I personally don’t care much for , although musically there are some nicer slightly more dark/menacing undertones that makes the music catchy without feeling cheap.
Musically it flutters along at a fast little clip—there is something sharp and blunt about it at the same time, like someone is trying to slash you to ribbons but they only have a butter knife. The last minute of the song is the highlight, with Mike using his solo to dig under your skin while Stone reprises that dirty bridge from Johnny Guitar. The last 30 seconds is dominated by the vocals so it’s hard to get a read on the music.
Eddie continues to play with the fast melodies he used in Got Some and Johnny Guitar. He sounds fine, with the sort of poppy vocal choices he makes in a song like Supersonic but with a bit more…not quite urgency---bewildered energy. Much more prominent backing vocals than we usually get. They’re nothing special during the verses but the last 30 seconds when they’re all yelling over each other (I have no idea what they’re saying) in that clipped, impatient way is pretty cool.
Lyrically this seems to be (this is just speculation based on what I can make out) a song about laughing in the face of death and absurdity. Some of the lines in here are decent, and they can get by with being a bit simplistic and lightweight since that’s kind of the point (although it would be a better song with better lyrics), but the Ole’ exclamation point is all over the verses, and so you can’t isolate or ignore it. If you think it’s sassy or whimsical or irreverent you’ll like the song. Unfortunately for me it’s a bit grating.
The last minute of the song I like quite a bit—the vocal interchange especially. That’s new for them and they do it well. But the rest of the song is in that power pop style I don't much care for, and the constant oles in the verses keep taking me out of the song before it can build any momentum.
It was speculated by RM user Spike that the Ole stuff might be so prominent for its sing along potential on the South American tour. Interesting thought?
Does this give us a sneak preview of the new record? I’d be surprised if this song makes it on, both because of its disposable feeling and because this seems like an odd way to release new material. I suspect this was just a random track they knocked out for fun while they were recording. Imagine if the first song you heard from Yield was Leatherman or Hitchhiker from Binaural. Still, this does gives us a sense of the sound of their next record—and it sounds like someone took some sandpaper to the shine on Backspacer, making it just a little scratchier without sacrificing the brightness. That part bodes well.
The performance on Jimmy Fallon was a solid rendition of the song—a little less poppy since live pearl jam always that extra grit. If you liked the studio version you’ll like the live version. If you don’t’ like the studio version you might still like the live version. They really commit to the song.
Of course the real hit here was Eddie’s duet with Jimmy Fallon: ‘Balls in Your Mouth’ That was an emotional tour de force that really rammed home the human tragedy of the Gulf Oil Spill, explained the social, political, and economic ramifications of the spill, criticized the political response, laid down the gauntlet for future generations, and did it all without being preachy or pedantic.